© 2015, Grupo Aula Medica S.A. All rights reserved. Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients (oligosaccharides) that reach the colon and are used as substrate by microorganisms producing energy, metabolites and micronutrients used for the host; in addition they also stimulate the selective growth of certain beneficial species (mainly bifidobacteria and lactobacilli) in the intestinal microbiota. In this article, a multidisciplinary approach to understand the concept of prebiotic carbohydrates, their properties and beneficial effects in humans has been carried out. Definitions of prebiotics, reported by relevant international organizations and researchers, are described. A comprehensive description of accepted prebiotics having strong scientific evidence of their beneficial properties in humans (inulin-type fructans, FOS, GOS, lactulose and human milk oligosaccharides) is reported. Emerging prebiotics and those which are in the early stages of study have also included in this study. Taken into account that the chemical structure greatly influences carbohydrates prebiotic properties, the analytical techniques used for their analysis and characterization are discussed. In vitro and in vivo models used to evaluate the gastrointestinal digestion, absorption resistance and fermentability in the colon of prebiotics as well as major criteria to design robust intervention trials in humans are described. Finally, a comprehensive summary of the beneficial effects of prebiotics for health at systemic and intestinal levels is reported. The research effort on prebiotics has been intensive in last decades and has demonstrated that a multidisciplinary approach is necessary in order to claim their health benefits.
- Beneficial effects