Tag Archives: FOS

Prebiotics vs Probiotics – What’s the Difference?

What’s the Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics?

You might have heard of the terms ‘prebiotics’ and ‘probiotics’ being mentioned in association with digestive health on BBC television show “Trust Me I’m A Doctor”. But what’s the difference between them and which one is more important?

Our digestive tract contains high amounts of probiotics ‘beneficial bacteria’, which play a vital role in supporting the optimum function of our digestive system. They do this via many various mechanisms including supporting digestion and enhancing our gut immunity.

Prebiotics

The best way to look after our gut bacteria is by feeding it well and the best foods for it are known as ‘prebiotics’. Prebiotics (also known as dietary fibre) are the indigestible components of food that are able to reach the large intestine (where most of our gut bacteria resides) to feed our beneficial bacteria to promote its growth and function. We are recommended to consume 30g of fibre daily, however, due to the introduction of the western diet which is high in processed and refined foods and contains very little fibre, the current average intake of fibre in the UK is 18g/day.

The main food sources of prebiotics include vegetables and fruits such as artichokes, garlic, leeks and onions and fermented foods such as kefir. Prebiotics are also available in the form of food supplements such as ‘fructooligosaccharides’ (FOS) and inulin.

FOS and Inulin

Research indicates that FOS and inulin are some of the most beneficial types of prebiotics for feeding our gut bacteria. They belong to the same family of fructo-polysaccharides, and the primary difference between them is that inulin is a longer chain fructo-polysaccharide than FOS. Although they both have very similar effects in terms of promoting the size, diversity and physiological functions of our gut bacteria, some research indicates that FOS may exert a broader therapeutic benefit than inulin. Both of these can be naturally derived from chicory, they are naturally sweet and can be used as a healthy alternative to sugar when the powder is sprinkled over food such as porridge for example.

Probiotics

Common modern lifestyle choices such as alcohol consumption, processed food intake and antibiotic use can impact negatively on the levels of our beneficial bacteria, hence the growing interest in the use of microbial preparations to supplement the diet known as ‘probiotics’. Therefore, although feeding our bacteria with prebiotics is important, it’s just as important to have the right balance of beneficial bacteria to be fed in the first place, which is why both probiotics and prebiotics are just as important as each other.

References
1. Slavin J. Fiber and Prebiotics: Mechanisms and Health Benefits. Nutrients. 2013;5(4):1417-1435.
2. Bornet et al. Nutritional aspects of short-chain fructooligosaccharides: natural occurrence, chemistry, physiology and health implications. Digest Liver Dis. 2002; 34 (2): S111-20.

Share

New research links FOS and Bone Health

A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition suggests a link between fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and bone health. It indicates that combining a calcium supplement with FOS is more effective than taking a calcium supplement alone (1).

The two-year study followed 300 post-menopausal women and measured markers of bone health. The women were randomly divided into three groups. One group of women were given a daily calcium supplement, while a second group were given a combination of calcium and FOS . The third group were given a placebo supplement. At the end of the study, measures of bone turnover and bone density were taken.

At the end of the study, there were no significant differences in bone density between any of the three groups. However, the results showed that the combination of FOS and calcium had the greatest effect on bone turnover.

Bone is constantly being broken down and rebuilt. The rate at which this happens is known as ‘bone turnover’ and is a known indicator of bone quality. The change in bone turnover markers in the women taking both FOS and calcium indicates ‘a more favourable bone health profile’ according to the researchers in this study.

FOS seems to enhance calcium absorption in the large intestine, and the researchers suggest that this is the reason for its effect on bone health. These findings certainly support the need for more research in this area, particularly for vulnerable groups such as postmenopausal women.

More about FOS

FOS or prebiotics are found in chicory root, jerusalem artichoke, asparagus, leeks, onion, beans, peas and lentils.
FOS or prebiotics are found in chicory root, jerusalem artichoke, asparagus, leeks, onion, beans, peas and lentils.

FOS is a prebiotic nutrient found in plant foods. Prebiotics are not digested, and simply pass through the body. In doing so, they act as ‘food’ for healthy bacteria in the bowel, boosting numbers of health-promoting acidophilus and bifidobacteria, and crowding out disease-causing bacteria. As well as improving calcium absorption, FOS also supports both digestive and immune health.

High concentrations of FOS or prebiotics are found in chicory root, jerusalem artichoke, asparagus, leeks, onion, beans, peas and lentils. FOS can also be taken in supplement form, and its sweet taste means that it works well mixed into oatmeal, yoghurt or smoothies, or simply used as a low-calorie sweetener to enhance flavour.

In the UK, most of us average an intake of around 12g of fibre each day – only half of the recommended amount. More research is still needed in the area of FOS and bone health. In the meantime, increasing fibre intake, and prebiotic foods in particular, seems a sensible measure to ensure the recommended intake for optimal health.

References

Slevin, M, Allsopp P, Magee M, Bonham V, Naughton J, Strain M, Duffy J, Wallace E, McSorley E. 2014. “Supplementation with Calcium and Short-Chain Fructo-Oligosaccharides Affects Markers of Bone Turnover But Not Bone Mineral Density in Postmenopausal Women”. Journal of Nutrition Jan 2014

Share