8 Proven Health Benefits of Prebiotics

Gut health is a trending topic right now, with increasing evidence pointing to gut health as the (not so now) secret to overall health.

Studies have unearthed links between our gut microbiome and:

Weight management

Inflammatory diseases

Cancer prevention

Stress and mental health

Immune function

With mounting research published on its significance in health and disease prevention, prebiotics are a popular consideration when looking to improve digestive health.

Prebiotics are undigestible fiber-rich carbohydrate food sources that are fermented in the gut by beneficial bacteria. Prebiotics are essentially food for our gut bacteria and help to populate the GI tract with a healthy and thriving microbiome.

Read on to learn about how prebiotics can affect our health.

Top 8 Health Benefits of Prebiotics

1) Improves Digestive Health

As mentioned, prebiotics are food for our gut bacteria and help to shape the ecology of our microbiome.

Prebiotics aid the growth of beneficial strains bifidobacteria and lactobacilli and reduce the growth of pathogenic strains.1 A healthy balance of good bacteria in the gut may significantly reduce infection and disease risk, by lowering the gut pH to limit the growth of pathogenic bacteria.2

Due to their high fiber content, prebiotics can also relieve constipation by improving transit time and bulking stools.3

2) Supports the Immune System

An increase of proteobacteria (a pathogenic strain) has been shown to permeate the gut lining, leaving microscopic tears that can lead to a condition called "leaky gut syndrome", aka intestinal permeability.

This is especially problematic for the immune system as food particles from the gut enter the bloodstream, causing the immune system to react. Leaky gut has been linked to many autoimmune conditions.4

Prebiotics have been shown to positively affect the innate and adaptive immune system by improving the immune response to pathogenic bacteria and allergens, helping to improve leaky gut.5

3) Reduces the Risk of Diabetes

In conjunction with probiotics, prebiotics can improve insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism by reducing pathogenic intestinal endotoxins. In turn, this helps to balance blood sugar and helps cells to become less insulin resistant.6

The high fiber content of prebiotic-rich sources can aid the sensation of fullness, regulate appetite control, and stabilise blood sugar. All these factors have been seen in the progression of type 2 diabetes.7

Proteobacteria is also seen in higher populations in those with obesity and type 2 diabetes.8

4) Reduces Inflammation

Prebiotics have been proven to reduce the risk of gastroenteritis and inflammatory infections due to their pathogenic reducing properties.9

In addition to increasing resistance to pathogenic bacteria, prebiotics have also been shown to increase the expression of anti-inflammatory cytokines whilst reducing proinflammatory cytokines, supporting the immune system to reduce inflammation and promote recovery.10

5) Increases Nutrient Absorption

A key issue with microbiome dysbiosis (an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria) is poor micronutrient absorption rates. Prebiotics help to Improve the bacterial and acidic environment in the gut, to allow for better nutrient digestion and absorption.11

Prebiotics can also notably increase calcium12 absorption in the colon along with improving the metabolism and synthesis of vitamin K & B12.13

6) Improves Skin Health

Pathogenic microbe populations are higher in the stool samples of those with chronic skin conditions.

Lipopolysaccharides (LPS), which are pathogenic inflammatory bacteria have been shown in high concentrations in those with acne14 and psoriasis15 by reducing the number of antibacterial peptides in the skin which help protect against inflammation.

7) Helps to Balance Hormones

Many hormones are created through the fermentation of prebiotics in the intestines.

A diet low in fermentable carbohydrates, as seen in the conventional management of IBS, appears to reduce the number of endocrine cells in the gut lining.16

As mentioned, prebiotics also relieve constipation which is particularly important to maintain hormonal homeostasis as excess hormones are excreted through stool. Constipation has been shown to increase the recycling of hormones and can lead to symptoms of oestrogen dominance.17

8) Improves Mental Health

The latest research suggests that our gut, aka our ‘second brain’ significantly impacts our brain health through the ecology of our microbiome.18

Emerging evidence claims that prebiotic effects on the gut microbiome influence the Central Nervous System (CNS) and may potentially be a natural remedy for depression and anxiety disorders.19

Why Take A Prebiotic Supplement?

Prebiotics can be found in food sources, however, there are notable benefits if you are considering supplementation:20

Doses are measured for therapeutic benefits.

Supplements are usually more potent than food sources, therefore a higher dose can be administered efficiently.

You can track exact dosages as food sources can vary significantly.

It is important however to consider potential side effects if doses are too high such as bloating, diarrhoea, and abdominal discomfort. This may be due to the change in the ecology of the microbiota, which may need a little time to adjust.

To avoid potential side effects, start supplementing with a low dose and gradually increase to the recommended intake over several days. If any gastrointestinal symptoms continue after seven days, please speak to your GP. 

References

1. Dietary modulation of the human gut microflora using prebiotics - PubMed (nih.gov)

2. The healthy human microbiome (nih.gov)

3. Fiber and prebiotics: mechanisms and health benefits - PubMed (nih.gov)

4. Proteobacteria: microbial signature of dysbiosis in gut microbiota - PubMed (nih.gov)

5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21233408/

6. Probiotics, prebiotics, synbiotics and insulin sensitivity - PubMed (nih.gov)

7. Dietary fat, fibre, satiation, and satiety-a systematic review of acute studies - PubMed (nih.gov)

8. Diet-driven microbiota dysbiosis is associated with vagal remodeling and obesity - PubMed (nih.gov)

9. Prebiotic effects: metabolic and health benefits - PubMed (nih.gov)

10. Effects of prebiotics on immune system and cytokine expression - PubMed (nih.gov)

11. Can prebiotics and probiotics improve therapeutic outcomes for undernourished individuals? - PubMed (nih.gov)

12. Prebiotics, Bone and Mineral Metabolism - PubMed (nih.gov)       

13. Role of the normal gut microbiota (nih.gov)      

14. Fibrin microclot formation in patients with acne - PubMed (nih.gov)

15. The influence of treatment on fibrin microclot generation in psoriasis - PubMed (nih.gov)

16. Diet in Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): Interaction with Gut Microbiota and Gut Hormones - PubMed (nih.gov)

17. Article | Estrogen Dominance Syndrome | Dr Hoffman Center | DR. RONALD HOFFMAN

18. Gut Microbiota-brain Axis - PubMed (nih.gov)

19. The Effects of Probiotics and Prebiotics on Mental Disorders: A Review on Depression, Anxiety, Alzheimer, and Autism Spectrum Disorders - PubMed (nih.gov)

20. Metabolic benefits of dietary prebiotics in human subjects: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials - PubMed (nih.gov)

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