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Prebiotics have a wide range of health-promoting properties. They are found in many common food items, making them an accessible and powerful tool in supporting health and wellbeing.

What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics are non-digestible fiber compounds that stimulate the growth and activity of beneficial gut microorganisms. [1] Simply put, they serve as food for good gut bacteria, thus promoting a healthy gut microbiome. There are many types of prebiotics, including inulin, fructo-oligosaccharides, resistant starches, and pectin. [2]

Prebiotics are distinct from probiotics and postbiotics, so understanding the differences between these is crucial.

While prebiotics feed the bacteria in our gut, they do not contain any live bacteria. Probiotics, on the other hand, are live microorganisms that inhabit the microbiome. [3] Like prebiotics, probiotics may confer health benefits when consumed in sufficient amounts. [3]

An example of a probiotic is Akkermansia muciniphila, which accounts for up to 5% of total intestinal bacteria. [4] A. muciniphila has gained considerable interest in recent years due to its health-promoting effects. For instance, A. muciniphila is inversely associated with conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and cardiometabolic disease. [4]

Finally, postbiotics are products of prebiotic and probiotic activity. [2] An example of a postbiotic is butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) produced through prebiotic fermentation. [2]

Prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics each play a unique and important role in supporting a healthy microbiome.

Definition of probiotics, prebiotics, synbiotics and postbiotics

Where to find prebiotics

Prebiotics are present in a variety of fiber-containing foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.

Examples of prebiotic-rich foods include [2,5]:

  • Apples
  • Tomatoes
  • Bananas
  • Asparagus
  • Berries
  • Garlic
  • Beans
  • Wheat
  • Honey

Many of these foods also contain other healthful compounds, such as polyphenols. For example, apple peel powder not only serves as a prebiotic source, but also contains polyphenolic compounds that exhibit strong antioxidant activity. [6] Polyphenols from red whole fruits are a great food for the good bacteria in your gut.

In addition to foods, prebiotics may be obtained through supplements. For instance, LayerOrigon’s PureHMO® Prebiotic contains 2’-Fucosyllactose (2’-FL), a prebiotic human milk oligosaccharide significantly increases the abundance of the health promoting probiotic, Akkermansia muciniphila [23].

Layer Origin PureHMO Prebiotic and Synbiotic

Layer Origin PureHMO® Prebiotic Capsules feed the growth of healthy gut bacteria like Bifidobacterium and Akkermansia which in turn create metabolites (postbiotics) like SCFAs which are anti-inflammatory and support the integrity of the gut lining (preventing leaky gut).

For a combination Pre and pro biotic (synbiotic) try PureHMO® Synbiotic.

Related: Biohacking Digestion and Optimising Gut Health

Mechanisms of action

How exactly do prebiotics exert their benefits? Let’s take a look at their general mechanisms of action.

Prebiotics are non-digestible, meaning they pass through the small intestine and travel to the colon. Here, they are fermented and used to provide energy for beneficial intestinal bacteria. These bacteria are associated with many health-promoting effects, such as protection against disease-causing pathogens. [1]

A. muciniphila, for example, thickens the mucus layer lining the intestine and promotes the expression of antimicrobial peptides, thus preventing pathogens from entering and surviving in intestinal cells. [4]

By serving as an energy source, prebiotics support the beneficial effects of probiotics. For instance, apple peel powder (a prebiotic source) has been shown to enhance the survivability and activity of probiotic bacteria. [7, 8]

Prebiotics mechanism of action

General events taken place in the large intestine. Prebiotics are the specific food for probiotics which ferment them to produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) to improve the host health.
Image source: ResearchGate / Huazano, Alicia & López, Mercedes G.

The benefits of prebiotics may also be explained by the postbiotics or metabolites (such as SCFAs) that are generated through their fermentation. For example, SCFAs can protect against inflammation, by downregulating pro-inflammatory cytokines and upregulating anti-inflammatory cytokines. [9] SCFAs also have antioxidant properties, thus protecting against oxidative stress. [10] Additionally, SCFAs can support the strength and integrity of the gut barrier. [9] This in turn further supports the growth of beneficial bacteria, by preventing harmful substances from entering the gut. SCFAs may also stimulate gut motility, thereby promoting normal bowel function. [9]

Interestingly, the health benefits of prebiotics may extend well beyond the gut. The gastrointestinal tract interacts with the brain through what is called the “gut-brain axis”. [11] Prebiotics may act on the gut-brain axis through various mechanisms, such as stimulating the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. [11] Prebiotics have even been shown to directly stimulate the expression of brain signaling molecules. [11]

Prebiotics are associated with benefits throughout the entire body, including in the brain, immune system, and cardiovascular system. [2] These benefits are described in further detail below.

Bulletproof Inner Fuel Prbiotic

Bulletproof InnerFuel Prebiotic is made with a plant-based prebiotic powder called Larch Arabinogalactan, which is also a is a natural immune booster.

The health benefits of prebiotics

There is substantial evidence supporting the health benefits of prebiotics. To start, prebiotics can favorably alter the composition of the gut microbiota. For instance, 2’-FL has been shown to support the growth of beneficial bacteria such as Bifidobacterium. [12, 13, 14] and Akkermansia [23].

Along similar lines, prebiotics may help prevent and treat intestinal disorders. For instance, in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study of 60 patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), 2-FL supplementation led to significant increases in the abundance of Bifidobacterium (which is often reduced in IBS). [15] Similarly, in a randomized, controlled trial of 44 IBS patients, prebiotic supplementation significantly increased Bifidobacterium abundance and improved symptoms such as stool consistency, flatulence, and bloating. [16]

Primal Collective MCT Powder

Following a ketogenic diet? Primal Collective MCT Powder is enhanced with Acacia fibre - an excellent prebiotic that has been shown to increase the population of Bifidobacteria and Bacteroidetes.

Moreover, prebiotics have been found to be effective in reducing symptoms of Crohn’s disease. [17] Prebiotics have also been associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer, although this research is largely limited to animal studies. [18]

Prebiotics also have gut-healing properties. For instance, BiOptimizers Biome Breakthrough formula combines IgYmax® and synbiotics (probiotics and prebiotics), designed to weed out bad bacteria, reseed the good ones, and repair the gut lining.

Cross feeding effect between Bifidobacterium and butyrate producing bacteria.png

Bifidobacterium utilises supplemented prebiotics, which stimulates their growth. Acetate produced by Bifidobacterium becomes a carbon source for butyrate-producing microbes, stimulating their growth and butyrate-producing activities and, in turn, modulating the microbiome function and improving gut health.
Image source: ResearchGate / Lee, Hui Ling & Shen, Haosheng & Hwang, In Young & Ling, Hua & Yew, Wen & Lee, Yung Seng & Chang, Matthew.

 Through the gut-brain axis, prebiotics and other beneficial compounds in the digestive system may support nervous system function. [2] For instance, 2’-FL has been shown to improve learning and memory in rodents. [19] 2’-FL is also linked to improved cognitive development in infants. [20]

There is even some evidence, mainly from animal studies, that prebiotics may have anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects. For example, in a mouse study, prebiotic supplementation led to reduced markers of stress and reduced anxiety- and depression-related behaviors. [21]

gut brain axis

Prebiotics may also support the function of the immune system. 2’-FL, for example, has been shown in animal and human cell studies to protect against Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli, and other infectious disease-causing agents. [22, 23] 2’-FL has also demonstrated immune benefits, such as reduced rates of respiratory infections and diarrhea, when added to infant formula. [24]

Moreover, prebiotics may support cardiovascular health. A meta-analysis of 15 studies found that prebiotics were associated with significant reductions in triacylglycerols (a marker of cardiovascular disease risk). [25] Similarly, in a randomized, double-blind study of 22 adults, consumption of prebiotic-enriched pasta led to significant improvements in blood lipid levels. [26] These changes in lipids, including an increase in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (i.e., “good” cholesterol), reflect improvements in cardiovascular disease risk.

Prebiotics may also support healthy body weight. For example, in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, 48 participants were assigned to receive either a prebiotic or placebo supplement for 12 weeks. 27 Those in the prebiotic group experienced a significant drop in body weight, while those in the control group gained weight. Likewise, blood glucose decreased in the prebiotic group and increased in the control group.

Related: Digestive Enzyme Supplements: All You Need to Know to Achieve an Optimised Level of Health

Takeaways

In sum, there are many health benefits associated with prebiotics. Not only do prebiotics contribute to a healthy, functioning digestive tract, but they also support systems throughout the whole body.

Further research is needed to clarify these benefits, including their strength and underlying mechanisms. Nonetheless, there is evidence to support the potential benefits of prebiotics on cognition, immune function, and cardiovascular health.

Overall, prebiotics are an excellent tool to nourish the gut and promote good health across the entire body.

References

1. Markowiak P, Śliżewska K. Effects of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics on Human Health.Nutrients. 2017;9(9):1021. doi:10.3390/nu9091021

2. Davani-Davari D, Negahdaripour M, Karimzadeh I, et al. Prebiotics: Definition, Types, Sources, Mechanisms, and Clinical Applications.Foods. 2019;8(3):92. doi:10.3390/foods8030092

3. Neri-Numa IA, Pastore GM. Novel insights into prebiotic properties on human health: A review.Food Res Int.2020;131:108973. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodres.2019.108973.

4. Cani PD, de Vos WM. Next-Generation Beneficial Microbes: The Case ofAkkermansia muciniphila.Front Microbiol. 2017;8:1765. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2017.01765

5. Koutsos A, Lima M, Conterno L, et al. Effects of Commercial Apple Varieties on Human Gut Microbiota Composition and Metabolic Output Using an In Vitro Colonic Model.Nutrients. 2017;9(6):533. doi:10.3390/nu9060533

6. Liang X, Zhu T, Yang S, et al. Analysis of Phenolic Components and Related Biological Activities of 35 Apple (Malus pumila Mill.) Cultivars.Molecules. 2020;25(18):4153. doi:10.3390/molecules25184153

7. Ahmad I, Khalique A, Shahid MQ, et al. Studying the Influence of Apple Peel Polyphenol Extract Fortification on the Characteristics of Probiotic Yoghurt.Plants (Basel). 2020;9(1):77. doi:10.3390/plants9010077

8. Zahid HF, Ranadheera CS, Fang Z, Ajlouni S. Utilization of Mango, Apple and Banana Fruit Peels as Prebiotics and Functional Ingredients.Agriculture. 2021; 11(7):584.https://doi.org/10.3390/agriculture1107058

9. Martin-Gallausiaux C, Marinelli L, Blottière HM, Larraufie P, Lapaque N. SCFA: mechanisms and functional importance in the gut.Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2021;80(1):37-49. doi:10.1017/S0029665120006916

10. Guarino MPL, Altomare A, Emerenziani S, et al. Mechanisms of Action of Prebiotics and Their Effects on Gastro-Intestinal Disorders in Adults.Nutrients. 2020;12(4):1037. doi:10.3390/nu12041037

11. Liu X, Cao S, Zhang X. Modulation of Gut Microbiota-Brain Axis by Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Diet.J Agric Food Chem. 2015;63(36):7885-7895. doi:10.1021/acs.jafc.5b02404

12. Elison E, Vigsnaes LK, Rindom Krogsgaard L, et al. Oral supplementation of healthy adults with 2'-O-fucosyllactose and lacto-N-neotetraose is well tolerated and shifts the intestinal microbiota.Br J Nutr. 2016;116(8):1356-1368. doi:10.1017/S0007114516003354

13. Ryan JJ, Monteagudo-Mera A, Contractor N, Gibson GR. Impact of 2'-Fucosyllactose on Gut Microbiota Composition in Adults with Chronic Gastrointestinal Conditions: Batch Culture Fermentation Model and Pilot Clinical Trial Findings.Nutrients. 2021;13(3):938. doi:10.3390/nu13030938

14. Van den Abbeele P, Duysburgh C, Vazquez E, Chow J, Buck R, Marzorati M. 2′-Fucosyllactose alters the composition and activity of gut microbiota from formula-fed infants receiving complementary feeding in a validated intestinal model.Journal of Functional Foods.2019;61:103484. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jff.2019.103484.

15. Iribarren C, Törnblom H, Aziz I, et al. Human milk oligosaccharide supplementation in irritable bowel syndrome patients: A parallel, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study.Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2020;32(10):e13920. doi:10.1111/nmo.13920

16. Silk DB, Davis A, Vulevic J, Tzortzis G, Gibson GR. Clinical trial: the effects of a trans-galactooligosaccharide prebiotic on faecal microbiota and symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome.Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2009;29(5):508-518. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2036.2008.03911.x

17. Lindsay JO, Whelan K, Stagg AJ, et al. Clinical, microbiological, and immunological effects of fructo-oligosaccharide in patients with Crohn's disease.Gut. 2006;55(3):348-355. doi:10.1136/gut.2005.074971

18. Mahdavi M, Laforest-Lapointe I, Massé E. Preventing Colorectal Cancer through Prebiotics.Microorganisms. 2021;9(6):1325. doi:10.3390/microorganisms9061325

19. Vázquez E, Barranco A, Ramírez M, et al. Effects of a human milk oligosaccharide, 2'-fucosyllactose, on hippocampal long-term potentiation and learning capabilities in rodents.J Nutr Biochem. 2015;26(5):455-465. doi:10.1016/j.jnutbio.2014.11.016

20. Berger PK, Plows JF, Jones RB, et al. Human milk oligosaccharide 2'-fucosyllactose links feedings at 1 month to cognitive development at 24 months in infants of normal and overweight mothers.PLoS One. 2020;15(2):e0228323. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0228323

21. Burokas A, Arboleya S, Moloney RD, et al. Targeting the Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis: Prebiotics Have Anxiolytic and Antidepressant-like Effects and Reverse the Impact of Chronic Stress in Mice.Biol Psychiatry. 2017;82(7):472-487. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2016.12.031

22. Weichert S, Jennewein S, Hüfner E, et al. Bioengineered 2'-fucosyllactose and 3-fucosyllactose inhibit the adhesion of Pseudomonas aeruginosa and enteric pathogens to human intestinal and respiratory cell lines.Nutr Res. 2013;33(10):831-838. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2013.07.009

23. Wang Y, Zou Y, Wang J, Ma H, Zhang B, Wang S. The Protective Effects of 2'-Fucosyllactose againstE. Coli O157 Infection Are Mediated by the Regulation of Gut Microbiota and the Inhibition of Pathogen Adhesion.Nutrients. 2020;12(5):1284. doi:10.3390/nu12051284

24. Reverri EJ, Devitt AA, Kajzer JA, Baggs GE, Borschel MW. Review of the Clinical Experiences of Feeding Infants Formula Containing the Human Milk Oligosaccharide 2'-Fucosyllactose.Nutrients. 2018;10(10):1346. doi:10.3390/nu10101346

25. Brighenti F. Dietary fructans and serum triacylglycerols: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.J Nutr. 2007;137(11 Suppl):2552S-2556S. doi:10.1093/jn/137.11.2552S

26. Russo F, Chimienti G, Riezzo G, et al. Inulin-enriched pasta affects lipid profile and Lp(a) concentrations in Italian young healthy male volunteers.Eur J Nutr. 2008;47(8):453-459. doi:10.1007/s00394-008-0748-1

27. Parnell JA, Reimer RA. Weight loss during oligofructose supplementation is associated with decreased ghrelin and increased peptide YY in overweight and obese adults.Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89(6):1751-1759. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.27465

Guest Author
Guest Author

This article was contributed by a guest author with expert knowledge in their field.



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