Assessing the science supporting the use of prebiotics to rebalance and maintain health

Background

A prebiotic is a food ingredient that selectively stimulates growth and / or the activity of microbial species inhabiting the intestinal tract – the gut microbiota – and that confers health benefits to the host. Some prebiotics occur naturally in foods, such as chicory, onions, cereals, agave and milk. However, most foods contain only trace levels.

Objectives

The Prebiotics Task Force aims to better understand the mechanisms behind prebiotic effects and their beneficial functions, and to advance their applications into a balanced diet.

Impact

  • A recent task force publication (K. Verbeke et al., 2015) evaluated available evidence on the properties of gut microbial metabolites in relation to prebiotic effects on health throughout life. The authors concluded that there is currently insufficient data to support the use of any individual bacterial metabolites as faecal markers of gut health and prebiotic effectiveness. Integration of results from metabolomics and metagenomics holds promise for understanding the health implications of prebiotic microbiome modulation but adequate tools for data integration and interpretation are currently lacking. The web-based news site NutraIngredients published an article on this scientific publication.
  • The task force collaborates with other ILSI Europe task forces, in particular with the Probiotics Task Force, to combine expertise on the potential effects of prebiotics on relevant areas such as digestion, absorption, immunity, brain / neuronal function or appetite regulation. The Prebiotics Task Force also shares knowledge with other ILSI branches around the world via the One ILSI Exchange Platform ‘Human Microbiome & Health’.
  • The collaboration with the Probiotics Task Force led to a joint Concise Monograph (N. Binns 2013) that summarises the science and principles valid for prebiotics, probiotics and synbiotics today. This successful publication (with more than 4,000 downloads from our website) was translated into Portuguese and Japanese.

What’s New

  • As result of the joint activity with the Functional Foods Task Force on ‘Exploring the Role of the Major Gut Microbiota Clusters on Nutritional and Functional Benefits of Nutrients and Non-Nutrients’ two manuscripts were published. A systematic review that collected existing data on the effects of different gastrointestinal microbiota clusters on the bioavailability of nutrients and non-nutrients is currently in the pipeline. The second manuscript focused on the microbial pathways associated with the metabolism of nutrients and non-nutrients and also reviewed methodologies that can be applied to study gut microbial metabolic pathways.

For more detailed information, please contact Dr Tobias Recker at trecker@ilsieurope.be

Task Force Members

 

Expert Groups

Revealing the Mechanistic Role in Human Physiology and Beneficial Aspects of Short Chain Fatty Acid (SCFA) Production in the Gastro-Intestinal Tract (GIT) – New

Objectives

Prebiotics have a beneficial impact on microbiota composition resulting in increased production of specific metabolites. SCFA production from prebiotic consumption is considered as (part of) the mechanism by which prebiotics exert beneficial effects on gut health and metabolic function. Furthermore, SCFAs also exert positive local and systemic physiological effects. However, SCFA production is often not considered as a health benefit as such. Consequently, this activity is intended to systematically review and evaluate the current scientific knowledge on SCFAs as a health benefit / biomarker by providing coherent evidence of their beneficial action(s).

Activity

Building on the results of the expert group that addressed microbial fermentation and metabolism, the expert group will deliver a (systematic) review based on the biological plausibility, bioavailability and mechanisms of beneficial effect from SCFA. Human as well as animal and mechanistic studies should be included in the analysis in order to summarise current scientific evidence on SCFA benefits. The activity should clarify whether it is scientifically justified and appropriate to consider SCFA production as a “stand-alone” health benefit.

Expected Output

It is intended to provide an expert consensus on SCFA production as a sole health benefit. Communication and dissemination of the conclusions will provide guidance facilitating the design and interpretation of academic and industrial prebiotic research. Furthermore, the consensus may support the development of health claims (procedures) on prebiotics.

Understand the Relationship Between the Molecular Structure and the Effects of Prebiotic Compounds on Microbiota and its Metabolites

Objectives

Prebiotics bear the potential to modulate the host microbiota composition and activity. These compounds display great variability in terms of structure but, so far, no clear conclusion regarding structure-function relationship has been drawn, although such knowledge would support the design of new prebiotics targeting specific health benefits.

The aims of this new activity are:

  • To determine the relationship between specific structure characteristics of fermentable carbohydrates and the impact on the composition and activity of the gut microbiota;
  • To investigate the metabolic capacity of human gut microbiota;
  • To consider potential direct effects (without being fermented first) on the host as a secondary objective.

Activity

The activity is not restricted to the definition of prebiotics but generally considers fermentable carbohydrates (prebiotics, candidate prebiotics and oligosaccharides). As investigating prebiotics- / carbohydrates-induced microbiota changes is more promising than assessing corresponding health effects, the project mainly focuses on the overall oro-gastro-intestinal microbial activity and its metabolic capacity to metabolise these compounds. The group is currently reviewing the available metagenomic data on the degradation of oligo- and polysaccharides. In vitro data of potential direct effects of these compounds on host cells with receptor / effector interactions are being examined as well, as for such interactions the structure of the carbohydrate is very important.

Expected Output

This activity aims to identify relevant gaps in research and to provide a guidance document to support the characterisation of prebiotic structures for future physiological effect studies. The project is intended to be a first step in defining structure-function relations between prebiotics and effects for the host.

Exploring the Role of the Major Gut Microbiota Clusters on Nutritional and Functional Benefits of Nutrients and Non-Nutrients

In collaboration with the Functional Foods Task Force

Objectives

The gut microbiota is involved in the metabolism and bio-availability of a large number of nutrients and non-nutrients. Therefore, it is an important variable to take into account when considering the management of obesity, inflammation and the metabolic syndrome. The aim of this activity was to collect and review existing data on different gut microbiota clusters in relation to their metabolic effects on selected nutrients and non-nutrients.

Activity

This expert group has systematically reviewed the available data on the effect of the gut microbiota on a selection of dietary substrates (including nutrients and non-nutrients) and also reviewed methodologies used and knowledge of the microbial pathways.

Output

The expert group divided the activity into two parts, addressing each one in a separate manuscript:

  • A first paper has systematically collected and reviewed existing data on the effects of gastrointestinal microbiota on the metabolism of nutrients and non-nutrients;
  • A second paper has reviewed what is known about the gut microbiota and the microbial pathways associated with the metabolism of nutrients and non-nutrients and also reviewed methodologies that can be applied to study gut microbial pathways of metabolism.

A stakeholder workshop organised in collaboration with the Obesity and Diabetes Task Force was held on 3-4 December 2015 in Brussels, Belgium, to refine the conclusions drawn in the draft manuscripts. The outcomes of this expert group were presented at the ILSI Global Annual Meeting on 25 January 2016, St. Petersburg, US, the APC Microbiome Workshop on 23 February 2016, Brussels, Belgium, IPC 2016 conference (International Scientific Conference for Probiotics and Prebiotics) on 21-23 June 2016 in Budapest, Hungary. and IUFoST 2016 congress (18th World Congress of Food Science and Technology) on 21-25 August 2016, Dublin, Ireland. The main conclusions of both manuscripts will also be presented at the ILSI Global session on ‘The Human Microbiome: Sharing Our Bodies’ at the IUNS 21st International Congress of Nutrition (15-20 October 2017, Buenos Aires, Argentina). A follow-up activity on ‘Microbiome Human Study Research Guidance’ will be launched soon.

Expert Group Members

Revealing the Mechanistic Role in Human Physiology and Beneficial Aspects of Short Chain Fatty Acid (SCFA) Production in the Gastro-Intestinal Tract (GIT) – New

Understand the Relationship Between the Molecular Structure and the Effects of Prebiotic Compounds on Microbiota and its Metabolites

Exploring the Role of the Major Gut Microbiota Clusters on Nutritional and Functional Benefits of Nutrients and Non-nutrients*

*Dr Jean-Michel Antoine, a former representative of Danone, is also an expert group member.

Posters

Understanding the Prebiotics Metabolic and Health Effects

Publications

All Publications

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