The Promise of Prebiotics

Prebiotics refer to nondigestible compounds (mainly nondigestible carbohydrates) metabolized by microorganisms in the gut. Prebiotic foods provide nutrition (energy) for the growth of friendly bacteria in the gut. The health of your gut microbiota is dependent mainly on the prebiotic foods that you consume. The general categories of prebiotics include:
Fructans (includes inulin and FOS (fructo-oligosaccharide)
Galactooligosaccharides (GOS) is found in milk, beans, and root vegetables
Resistant starches and Glucose-Derived Oligosaccharides
Other Oligosaccharides such as pectin (starch from fruits and vegetables)
Non-Carbohydrate Oligosaccharides such as cocoa-derived flavanols
*Oligosaccharides refer to any carbohydrate formed by three to six units of simple sugars
Examples of prebiotic foods include:
Jerusalem artichoke
Milk (human and cow’s milk)
Seaweeds and Microalgae
Whole Grain Wheat
Great For Gut Health
Prebiotics has also been shown to positively affect intestinal function and health. In addition, prebiotics suppresses the growth of disease-causing microbes in the gut by increasing the good bacteria Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus levels. These friendly flora produce lactic acid, which fights infectious organisms.
When gut microbiota ferments prebiotics, they produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). Examples include lactic acid, butyric acid (butyrate), and propionic acid. There are multiple benefits of these SCFAs in the body, including immune system enhancement and proper colon pH. SCFAs also promote intestinal integrity and reduce inflammation, which protects the intestinal barrier. The short-chain fatty acid known as butyrate has been shown to reduce bacterial movement from the gut to the bloodstream and strengthen intestinal barrier function. SCFAs also reduce the risk for colorectal cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, and Crohn’s disease.
The SCFA’s produced by prebiotic metabolism in the gut are absorbed through the intestinal cells (enterocytes) and into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, the SCFA’s positively affect other organs and systems beyond the digestive system. According to a published paper in the journal Foods, SCFA’s benefits also include:
Development of the nervous system in infants
Improved learning, recall, and memory
Improved immune response
Decreased total and LDL cholesterol, and reduced triglycerides
Lipogenesis (fat breakdown)
Improved calcium absorption
Increased collagen formation
Reduced risk of atopic dermatitis (eczema)
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Davani-Davari D, Negahdaripour M, Karimzadeh I, et al. Prebiotics: Definition, Types, Sources, Mechanisms, and Clinical Applications. Foods. 2019;8(3):92. Published 2019 Mar 9. doi:10.3390/foods8030092
About Dr. Stengler
Dr. Mark Stengler NMD is a bestselling author in private practice in Encinitas, California at the Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine. His weekly newsletter Dr. Stengler’s Health Breakthroughs is available at