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Prebiotics are non-digestible dietary fibers that selectively stimulate the growth of beneficial colon bacteria in the host’s microbiota such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. Among prebiotics, inulin and fructooligosaccharides are the most well-known of them.

Prebiotics are complex carbohydrates that are not digested by the upper gastrointestinal tract, but rather are fermented in the final section by “good” bacteria present in the colon. Consequently, they are not a source of energy for intestinal cells, but are essential substrates for certain microorganisms, particularly in the vaginal and intestinal microbiota.

Where can you find prebiotics?

Diet is the only source of prebiotics; it’s by eating that you feed your microbiota and thereby influence its diversity and composition. Therefore, a varied diet, favoring foods high in fiber like fresh fruit and vegetables, is the key element in preserving the equilibrium in bacterial flora.

The most-used prebiotics are fructans, particularly inulin, and fructooligosaccharides. Some foods are particularly rich in them: 

  • bananas, onions, and garlic contain oligosaccharides,
  • endives, chicory, and artichokes contain inulin,
  • dry pulses and complete cereals contain resistant starch.

Prebiotics, effects to be confirmed

Prebiotics have great therapeutic potential for diseases associated with dysbiosis, like infectious intestinal diseases or allergies. Nevertheless, like with probiotics, it will be necessary to identify the kind of prebiotic to use, the dose, the route of administration, and to confirm their effectiveness. 

Gibson GR, Roberfroid MB. Dietary modulation of the human colonic microbiota: introducing the concept of prebiotics .J Nutr, 1995; 125:1401-12.
Scott K, prebiotics
Prebiotics: The Concept Revisited. Marcel Robertfroid, J. Nutr., march 2007, vol. 137 n°3 830S-837S
Scott, KP. et al. Manipulating the gut microbiota to maintain health and treat disease. Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease, [S.l.], v. 26, feb. 2015. ISSN 1651-2235.
Bouchaud G. et al. Maternal exposure to GOS/Inulin mixture prevents food allergies and promotes tolerance in offspring in mice. Allergy, édition en ligne du 1er octobre 2015
Inserm 2015