Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that stimulate the growth and/or activity of bacteria in the digestive system in ways claimed to be beneficial to health. As a functional food component, prebiotics, like probiotics, are conceptually intermediate between foods and drugs. Depending on the jurisdiction, they typically receive an intermediate level of regulatory scrutiny, in particular of the health claims made concerning them. Typically, prebiotics are carbohydrates (such as oligosaccharides), but the definition may include non-carbohydrates. The most prevalent forms of prebiotics are nutritionally classed as soluble fiber. To some extent, many forms of dietary fiber exhibit some level of prebiotic effect.
Roberfroid offered a refined definition in the 2007 Journal of Nutrition stating:
“A prebiotic is a selectively fermented ingredient that allows specific changes, both in the composition and/or activity in the gastrointestinal microflora that confers benefits upon host well-being and health.”
Additionally, in his 2007 revisit of Prebiotics, Roberfroid stated that only two particular fructooligosaccharides fully meet this definition: oligofructose and inulin. Other authorities also classify galactooligosaccharides (GOS) as prebiotics. Mannan Oligosaccharides (MOS) have been termed as prebiotics but would more correctly be termed immunosaccharides
Researchers now also focus on the distinction between short-chain, long-chain, and full-spectrum prebiotics. “short-chain” prebiotics, e.g. oligofructose, contain 2-8 links per saccharide molecule, are typically fermented more quickly in the right-side of the colon providing nourishment to the bacteria in that area. Longer-chain prebiotics, e.g. Inulin, contain 9-64 links per saccharide molecule, and tend to be fermented more slowly, nourishing bacteria predominantly in the left-side colon. Full-spectrum prebiotics provide the full range of molecular link-lengths from 2-64 links per molecule, and nourish bacteria throughout the colon, e.g. Oligofructose-Enriched Inulin (OEI). The majority of research done on prebiotics is based on full-spectrum prebiotics, typically using OEI as the research substance.
The prebiotic definition does not emphasize a specific bacterial group. Generally, however, it is assumed that a prebiotic should increase the number and/or activity of bifidobacteria and lactic acid bacteria. The importance of the bifidobacteria and the lactic acid bacteria (AKA lactobacillus or LABs) is that these groups of bacteria have several beneficial effects on the host, especially in terms of improving digestion (including enhancing mineral absoidentica and the effectiveness and intrinsic strength of the immune system.
FROM AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR DR GOVIND SHUKLA, NUTRITION EXPERT
Govind Shukla, Specializes in Pharmacology, Toxicology, Nutraceuticals & Herbal Drugs has published More than 100 research papers in National & International Journals. He is also a reviewer of International Journal of Pharmacology & pharmacotherapeutics, Chief editor of IJPNR Journal & Freelance Medical Writer for Different publication Groups including Lambert Academic Publishing Saarbrucken, Germany.