An intermediate guide to

Exploring prebiotics
in gut health

Prebiotics are fuel for the microbes of our gut, consisting of carbohydrates our body can’t digest but gut bacteria can.

Archaeological evidence reveals that humans 10,000 years ago who lived a hunter-forager lifestyle consumed approximately 135 grams of prebiotic fiber every day — A stark contrast to the 10-15 grams that most Americans consume today. Likely as a result of their prebiotic intake, our ancestors also had far more diverse microbes than modern humans and lived free from many of the diseases we face.

Studies have suggested that some of the benefits of prebiotics include:

  • Reducing the prevalence and duration of infectious and antibiotic-associated diarrhea.

  • Reducing the inflammation and symptoms associated with inflammatory bowel disease.

  • Exerting protective effects to prevent colon cancer.

  • Enhancing the bioavailability and uptake of minerals, including calcium, magnesium, and possibly iron.

  • Lowering some risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

  • Promoting satiety and weight loss and prevent obesity.

Some common prebiotics we find in everyday food are:

Can be found in


Colostrum (first milk from cows)

Oligosaccharides are some of the most important bioactive components found in bovine colostrum, or the first milk from dairy cows. As one of their multiple roles, they act as growth promoters for beneficial microflora in the colon.


Chicory root
Dandelion greens
Jerusalem artichoke

Inulins belong to a class of dietary fibers known as fructans. They are present in more than 36,000 plant species. It’s been estimated that Americans consume on average 1–4 grams of inulin and oligofructose per day.

Galactooligosaccharides (GOS)


A carbohydrate chain made up of the simple sugars galactose and glucose.

Fructooligosaccharides (FOS)


A carbohydrate chain made up primarily of the simple sugar fructose.



A polysaccharide found in many fruits and vegetables. The average daily intake of pectin is estimated to be around 5 grams.

Beta glucan


A polysaccharide naturally found in the cell walls of cereals, bacteria, and fungi.

The health benefits for which prebiotics can be applied include conditions such as gastrointestinal infections, certain bowel disorders, allergy, and urogenital infections, which afflict a large portion of the world’s population.”

Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation. Codex Alimentarius Commission.

Prebiotics in Clinical Studies

Below is a summary of prebiotics that have shown a benefit in clinical studies.
Health End Point
Prebiotic Used

Metabolic health: overweight and obesity; type 2 diabetes mellitus; metabolic syndrome and dyslipidaemia; inflammation

Inuline, GOS, FOS

Stimulation of neurochemical-producing bacteria in the gut


Improved absorption of calcium and other minerals, bone health

Inulin, FOS

Skin health, improved water retention and reduced erythema





Inulin, lactulose

Urogenital health


Bowel habit and general gut health in infants


Infections and vaccine response

FOS, GOS, polydextrose

Necrotizing enterocolitis in preterm infants




Traveller’s diarrhea




Immune function in elderly individuals


From: Expert consensus document: The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) consensus statement on the definition and scope of prebiotics

Increasing your prebiotic intake

If you’d like to increase your intake of prebiotics to improve your gut health, here’s a few recommendations:
Start slowly

Because gut microbiomes can vary dramatically between individuals, some people will have difference tolerance to different forms of prebiotics.

Introduce over time

If you’re not used to a higher intake of prebiotics, too much at once can be hard for your body to digest. Consuming too much fiber can lead to bloating or abdominal pain, so listen to what your body (and your gut microbes) are telling you.

Select a prebiotic that works for you

There’s a range of prebiotics available both in foods and in supplements, giving you the opportunity to select one that fits your needs.

next article

Common medications and gut health

In addition to diet and lifestyle, medications can also affect our gut health. Although the effects of prescription and non-prescription drugs on gut health has not been fully characterized, recent studies are providing illuminating insights.

Read Article

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