Prebiotics: Friend or Foe?

Jerusalem Artichoke

Jerusalem Artichoke

A prebiotic was first defined as ‘‘a nondigestible food ingredient that beneficially affects the host by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of one or a limited number of bacteria in the colon, and thus improves host health.’’[1]

Not all dietary carbohydrates are prebiotics, and clear criteria need to be established for classifying a food ingredient as a prebiotic. These criteria are:

  1. Resistance to gastric acidity, to hydrolysis by mammalian enzymes, and to gastrointestinal absorption
  2. Fermentation by intestinal microflora
  3. Selective stimulation of the growth and/or activity of those intestinal bacteria that contribute to health and well-being.

Only inulin and oligofructose, essentially nondigestible oligosaccharides, fulfill the criteria for prebiotic classification (Table 1). Prebiotics are nondigestible food ingredients that beneficially affect host health by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of 1 or a limited number of bacteria in the colon. Fermentation of FOS in the colon results in a large number of physiologic effects including increasing the numbers of bifidobacteria in the colon, increasing calcium absorption, increasing fecal weight, shortening of gastrointestinal transit time, and possibly lowering blood lipid levels.

What is Inulin?

Carbohydrate

Nondigestibility

Fermentation

Selectivity

Prebiotic status

Inulin and oligofructose

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Galactooligosaccharides

Probable

????

Yes

Yes

Lactulose

Probable

????

Yes

Yes

Isomaltooligosaccharides

Partly

Yes

Promising

No

Lactosucrose

NA

NA

Promising

No

Xylooligosaccharides

NA

NA

Promising

No

Soybean oligosaccharides

NA

NA

NA

No

Glucooligosaccharides

NA

NA

NA

No

Concerned about your Health?

Call today! 530-615-4083

Inulin in Natural Food

Inulin is a carbohydrate belonging to a class of compounds known as fructans and is closely related to fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS). Although they aren’t the same, you will often find them used interchangeably. These are all starches (carbohydrates), just varying in structure. Since inulin is not absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract, it is considered to be a fiber. It is a soluble fiber as opposed to cellulose, which is insoluble. Inulin/FOS also goes by names such as Neosugar, Alant Starch, Atlanta Starch, Alantin, Dahlin, Helenin, and Diabetic Sugar.

Inulin: Friend or Foe?

The body is genetically adapted to certain foods and as we continue to mess with our food chain, our health suffers the consequences. Of the nutritional fibers, cellulose was the most likely to be included in a traditional hunter-gatherer diet. Cellulose is an insoluble fiber that is slowly fermented by the microbial population in the human colon. Inulin/FOS is a soluble fiber that is quickly and easily fermented. “The difference between cellulose (a food we are adapted to) and inulin/FOS (a food we are not adapted to in large quantities) is like the difference between a slow burning ember and a raging fire.

INULIN INCREASED SOYBEAN ISOFLAVONES DAIDZEIN and GENISTEIN ABSORPTION

Insoluble dietary fibers such as fructooligosaccharides and inulin may stimulate the growth of these bacteria in the colon.[2] Inulin increases the plasma concentrations of the soybean isoflavones daidzein and genistein in postmenopausal women.

The good properties of inulin:

16632229_sInulin does stimulate microbial growth. The majority of studies focus only on the good attributes promoting a particular product line. Similar to studies supporting iodine for thyroid, ignoring the potential bad effects of the supplement. There is a growing body of evidence that bad things can occur when used inappropriately. Inulin has been used as a food ingredient for many years, but it is only recently that the use of inulin and oligofructose, a hydrolysate of inulin, has increased considerably owing to their many postulated health benefits and their documented properties, such as a dietary-fiber effect and their ability to increase the levels of certain enteric bacteria, including bifidobacteria.[3]

Because it transits to the large intestine almost unchanged, inulin essentially serves as fertilizer for the bacteria in your colon. Certain lactobacillus species of bacteria have been shown to preferentially ferment inulin/FOS, especially the Bifidus species. Bifidobacteria digest inulin to produce short chain fatty-acids (SCFAs), such as acetic, propionic, and butyric acids. Recent animal research also shows that inulin prevents precancerous changes in the colon.

The bad properties of inulin:

Dietary inulin caused distinct alterations in the bile acid profile of gallbladder bile. Taurochenodeoxycholic acid was significantly lower, whereas glycocholic and glycodeoxycholic acid were greater in hamsters fed inulin. Tauroconjugation of cholic acid significantly increases bacterial 7 alpha-dehydroxylation of cholic acid into deoxycholic acid.

Clostridium sp. and Bacteroides sp. increased 7 alpha-dehydroxylation of taurocholic acid by deconjugated taurine and rapidly reduced it to hydrogen sulfides (H2S). Sulphate-Reducing Bacteroides sp. (SRBs) do not grow unless taurine or another appropriate reducible sulfur source are present. Sulphur sources in medications may also increase deoxycholic acid formation.[4] Hydrogen Sulfide Toxicity from SRBs includes inhibition of mitochondrial respiration (chronic fatigue, low energy), induced vasodilation (swelling of joints, extremities and organ blood vessels), proinflammatory, induced hypometabolism (sluggish metabolism) & hypothermia (always cold, hands & feet).

Manufacturers claim that inulin/FOS specifically feeds only good bacteria. Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients believed to beneficially affect host health by selectively stimulating the growth of the beneficial bacteria residing in the gut. Inulin/FOS feeds any bacteria capable of digesting it.

Impaired Intestinal Barrier Function

Prebiotics, such as fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), stimulate the protective gut microflora, resulting in an increased production of organic acids. FOS increased cytotoxicity of fecal water and intestinal permeability. Moreover, FOS increased fecal mucin excretion and mucin concentrations in cecal and colonic contents, and in cecal mucosa before infection. GOS/inulin supplementation was associated with increased bacterial translocation (BT). GOS/inulin supplementation may increase BT in an immature gut in immunocompromised individuals.[5]

BACTERIAL TRANSLOCATION

Bacterial translocation is the movement of bacteria or bacterial products across the intestinal membrane to emerge either in the lymphatics or the visceral circulation. Three primary mechanisms that promote bacterial translocation have been identified: intestinal bacterial overgrowth; increased permeability of the intestinal mucosal barrier; and deficiencies in host immune defenses.

INULIN INTOLERANCE

Symptoms of intolerance usually include flatulence, bloating, cramps, abdominal pain, diarrhea and rarely, constipation. Increasing use of inulin, as a food ingredient should have led to a greater incidence of hypersensitivity but the food list above any gastrointestinal distress would be attributed to being lactose intolerant. Basically, the worse the natural population of bacteria and yeasts in your colon, the worse the symptoms of intolerance. Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and inulin occur naturally in many foods of vegetable origin, such as onions, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, leeks, and garlic. 

Jerusalem artichoke

Jerusalem artichoke

If you think inulin may be helpful to you, ingest it in the form of a whole food; by eating chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes or other foods naturally high in this substance. Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and inulin occur naturally in many foods of vegetable origin, such as onions, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, leeks, and garlic.  All ingredients present in whole foods work harmoniously with each other. Just as refining a single ingredient in an herb and calling it “medicine” often results in a deadly poison, so too does refining a single ingredient out of whole food often turns that ingredient into a toxic substance.

Concerned about your Health?

Call today! 530-615-4083


[1] de Vrese M, Schrezenmeir J. Effects of Probiotics and Prebiotics on Health Maintenance—Critical Evaluation of the Evidence, J Nutr. derived from presentations and discussions at the World Dairy Summit 2003 of the International Dairy Federation (IDF) in a joint IDF/FAO symposium entitled held in Bruges, Belgium. April 2006

[2] McFarlane GT, Cumming JH. The colonic flora, fermentation, and large bowel digestive function. New York, NY: Raven Press, 1991:51–93.

[3] Nutritional and health benefits of inulin and oligofructose: proceedings of a conference, Bethesda, Maryland, USA, May 18-19, 1998. J Nutr 1999;129:Suppl:1395S-1502S

[4] Thomas LA, Veysey MJ, Murphy GM, Russell-Jones D, French GL, Wass JA, Dowling RH. Octreotide induced prolongation of colonic transit increases faecal anaerobic bacteria, bile acid metabolising enzymes, and serum deoxycholic acid in patients with acromegaly. Gut. 2005 May;54(5):630-5.

[5] Barrat E, Michel C, Poupeau G, David-Sochard A, Rival M, Pagniez A, Champ M, Darmaun D. Supplementation with galactooligosaccharides and inulin increases bacterial translocation in artificially reared newborn rats. Pediatr Res. 2008 Jul;64(1):34-9.

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