Inulin Enhances Digestive Health
You may not often think about how the health of your gut could be impacting your overall wellness and potential for longevity, but you probably should. Mortality due to gastrointestinal infections is 400 times higher in the elderly compared with younger adults. What’s more, recent studies have shown that the gut flora — the microorganisms that live in the intestines and help regulate digestion and immunity — changes in old age. Specifically, the number of bacterial groups increases because of alterations in immune function, diet and lifestyle, all of which may contribute to disease susceptibility and severity in old age. (Tuohy KM. J Nutr. 2007 Nov;137(11 Suppl):2590S-2593S.)
When it comes to improving your health by rebalancing your intestinal flora, there’s something that can work wonders — prebiotics. Not to be confused with probiotics, prebiotics are compounds, found in many of the foods we eat, that promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria by providing a medium, or “food” to help them flourish. These nutritional compounds are grouped by the specific bacteria they help stimulate the growth and activity of.
Most commonly, inulin-type prebiotics are bifidogenic — stimulating the growth of Bifidobacteria bacteria species. They contain fructans, which are a category of nutritional compounds that encompass naturally occurring plant oligo- and polysaccharides. It’s these fructans that give inulin its unique structural and physiological properties, allowing it to resist breakdown by saliva and small intestinal digestive enzymes. Inulin-type prebiotics include fructooligosaccharides (FOS), oligofructose and inulin. Inulin-type supplements are extracted from food (typically chicory root) or typically synthesized from sugar. Inulin is a type of soluble fiber also found in foods such as chicory, garlic and leeks.
Because inulin, oligofructose, and FOS resist digestion in the upper gastrointestinal tract, they reach the colon virtually intact where they undergo fermentation, which is where all the bacterial magic begins. (Kelly G. Altern Med Rev. 2008 Dec;13(4):315-29.)
Recent human studies confirm that inulin can modulate gut flora and that it may possibly reduce the risk of disease. However, there needs to be more and larger human intervention studies to determine the efficacy of prebiotics in the elderly, and to understand their mechanisms of action.
The Anti-Aging Bottom Line: Maintaining the health of your digestive tract is vital to wellness, especially as you get older. Keeping your internal microflora in balance will help keep your digestive and immune systems strong. To keep these microflora in balance, probiotic supplements can be quite useful. You can further enhance the efficacy of the probiotics you are consuming by taking prebiotics, such as inulin.
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Article updated on: July 16th, 2009