Cutting-Edge Colon Support: Boost Your Immunity with PrebioticsDecember 2009
By Julius Goepp, MD
Populations of beneficial bacteria in the lower intestine decline with age. This is one of the causes of disease in the digestive tract. It is also one reason why older people are more susceptible to gastrointestinal disorders than young adults.7,8 A plethora of studies indicate that prebiotics can help to replenish useful bacteria to the colon and restore youthful balance to the gut ecology.
Prebiotics have been successfully used in preventing traveler’s diarrhea19 and can reduce symptoms of constipation.20-22 Prebiotic supplementation has also proven critical in promoting uptake of vital nutrients such as calcium and iron, which aging individuals often have difficulty absorbing.20,23-26
Research suggests that prebiotics may lower cholesterol by increasing its elimination from the digestive tract.27 Pre-clinical models indicate prebiotics may also increase insulin sensitivity, in part by favorably modulating gene expression associated with fatty acid and glucose metabolism.28
Millions suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). While its causes are unclear, IBS remains one of the most common functional gastrointestinal disorders.29,30 IBS produces painful bouts of diarrhea, gas, and cramping, often alternating with constipation, and few natural supplements are effective (drug treatments have recently been restricted because of adverse events).31,32 Prebiotics—alone or in combination with probiotics—are finding growing acceptance, even within the mainstream medical community, as a primary treatment for IBS.33
As a water-soluble, non-gelling fiber, guar gum also plays a major role in managing IBS, decreasing painful or uncomfortable symptoms.29 Guar gum supplementation has proven especially effective in combating diarrhea and constipation. It binds and retains water in stool, softening hard stools and solidifying liquid ones.29,34-37 Guar gum is also much better tolerated and easier to use by IBS patients than other forms of dietary fiber such as wheat bran.38,39
Guar gum’s effects extend beyond the digestive tract. It helps lower glucose absorption, blunting the after-meal spike of blood sugar that can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes.40 It has been shown to inhibit absorption of dietary cholesterol and fats, helping to promote cardiovascular health.41
There is significant clinical evidence that prebiotics used in combination with select probiotics may also reduce the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). They have been shown to powerfully inhibit the destructive inflammatory response that underlies many chronic diseases—both in the colon and entire body. The effects of the pre-and probiotic combination emerged in a 2005 study of patients with ulcerative colitis, a form of inflammatory bowel disease.42
Patients received placebo or a supplement combination of Bifidobacteria probiotic with a fructo-oligosaccharide prebiotic. Evidence of inflammation on colonoscopy was markedly reduced in patients taking the supplement combination compared with controls, and inflammatory cytokine levels dropped significantly.42 Other studies have shown that increasing levels of both Bifidobacteria and butyrate produced from prebiotics contribute to suppressing inflammation in inflammatory bowel disease.43
In a study involving a group of healthy elderly volunteers, prebiotics stimulated Bifidobacteria growth and increased cholesterol excretion in as little as four weeks.27 The study showed that during the prebiotics period the subjects eliminated four times as much cholesterol as they did before supplementation. These results show how powerfully prebiotics can help us excrete cholesterol that would otherwise be absorbed and contribute to poor health.
Both animal and human studies further demonstrate that prebiotics facilitate optimal calcium absorption, a critical factor in preventing bone loss.44 Soy isoflavone supplements can help reduce bone loss when used alone, but they are not universally well absorbed. In a recent pre-clinical study, adding a prebiotic supplement dramatically boosted the beneficial effects and made even the lowest isoflavone dose effective.45 Use of prebiotics has also been shown to enhance the bioavailability of isoflavones and increase bone mineral density in mice.20 Researchers have further demonstrated that both short- and long-term prebiotic supplementation enhances calcium absorption and bone mineralization in humans.46-48
Optimal distribution of beneficial bacteria in the colon plays an essential role in overall health, assisting in digestion and absorption of vital nutrients. The digestive tract also serves as a frontline defense for the immune system. Digestive and immune functions decline with age, leaving individuals vulnerable to a host of disorders. Prebiotics counter these effects and enhance bowel health with total-body immune system support. Recent advances in prebiotic technology have yielded sophisticated compounds to address these health problems. A wealth of clinical data indicates that the prebiotic activity of agave and guar gum may powerfully counter age-related declines in digestive function.
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