12 January - 20 June 2016

Prebiotics may help alter gut microbiota composition in overweight children

A study conducted by scientists from the Universities of Calgary and Alberta, recently published in Gastroenterology, has sought to investigate the effect of prebiotics on gut microbiota in overweight or obese children.

A study conducted by scientists from the Universities of Calgary and Alberta, recently published in Gastroenterology, has sought to investigate the effect of prebiotics on gut microbiota in overweight or obese children.

Nicolucci et al. note the important role the gut microbiota plays in modulating inflammation and other conditions and state that consumption of prebiotics, non-digestible ingredients used by gut microbes, have been shown to improve glucose and insulin concentrations in adults amongst having other beneficial effects.  A specific prebiotic comprising of inulin and oligofructose has also been shown to have beneficial effects on specific gut microbes, including Bifidobacterium spp., which has been associated with healthy gut composition and positive outcomes in adults relating to percentage fat mass, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and reductions in lipopolysaccharide (LPS) levels. The researchers note that these results justify similar trials in overweight and obese children but that little work has previously been performed in this area. Their aim therefore was to investigate the effect of prebiotics on gut microbiota, faecal bile acid (FBA) and “associated metabolic outcomes” in overweight or obese children.

Nicolucci et al performed two double-blind placebo-controlled trials.  42 overweight or obese children (aged 7-12) were randomly assigned to one of two groups. At baseline, and 4 weekly throughout the trial, measurements including fat mass, lean mass, height, weight and waist circumference were taken. Blood and faecal samples were also taken at baseline and the end of the 16-week trial. Blood was analysed for lipids, LPS and insulin amongst others while faecal samples were used to analyse for bile acids and, using 16S rRNA sequencing and quantitative PCR, for microbiota composition.

One group was given 8g/day of oligofructose-enriched inulin (OI) while the other was given a maltodextrin placebo, of an iso-calorific dose, daily for the duration of the trial. After 16 weeks and following analysis, Nicolucci et al. found that children in the OI group showed significant decreases in body weight z-index (a measure of the distance between an individual’s weight and the average weight of comparable children) (by 3.1%), percentage body fat (2.4%) and percentage trunk fat (3.8%) when compared to the placebo group. The OI group also showed a significant decrease in blood triglyceride (19%) and interleukin 6 (15%) levels

PCR showed a significant increase in Bifidobacterium spp., while 16S rRNA sequencing showed increased populations of Bifidobacterium and decreased populations of Bacteroides vulgatus in the OI group compared to the placebo. Faecal samples in the placebo group showed an increase in bile acids not present in the OI group.

In conclusion, Nicolucci et al. reiterate that their study shows that OI consumption “normalises childhood weight gain, reduces whole body and trunk body fat. Modified primary FBAs and selectively alters gut microbiota”.

Nicolucci et al. indicate that their findings should provide the basis for larger clinical trials but note that as prebiotics are “inexpensive and non-invasive” they may be a “plausible dietary intervention” tool for overweight and obese children.

RSSL's Product and Ingredient Innovation Team has considerable experience in formulating products containing prebiotics and probiotics. For more information please contact Customer Services on +44 (0) 118 918 4076 or email enquiries@rssl.com

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