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Prebiotics and synbiotics: dietary strategies for improving gut health

Krumbeck, Janina A.; Maldonado-Gomez, Maria X.; Ramer-Tait, Amanda E.; Hutkins, Robert W.

Current Opinion in Gastroenterology: March 2016 - Volume 32 - Issue 2 - p 110–119
doi: 10.1097/MOG.0000000000000249
NUTRITION: Edited by Eamonn M.M. Quigley

Purpose of review A wide range of dietary carbohydrates, including prebiotic food ingredients, fermentable fibers, and milk oligosaccharides, are able to produce significant changes in the intestinal microbiota. These shifts in the microbial community are often characterized by increased levels of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. More recent studies have revealed that species of Faecalibacterium, Akkermansia, and other less well studied members may also be enriched. We review the implications of these recent studies on future design of prebiotics and synbiotics to promote gastrointestinal health.

Recent findings Investigations assessing the clinical outcomes associated with dietary modification of the gut microbiota have shown systemic as well as specific health benefits. Both prebiotic oligosaccharides comprised of a linear arrangement of simple sugars, as well as fiber-rich foods containing complex carbohydrates, have been used in these trials. However, individual variability and nonresponding study participants can make the outcome of dietary interventions less predictable. In contrast, synergistic synbiotics containing prebiotics that specifically stimulate a cognate probiotic provide additional options for personalized gut therapies.

Summary This review describes recent research on how prebiotics and fermentable fibers can influence the gut microbiota and result in improvements to human health.

aDepartment of Food Science and Technology

bSchool of Biological Sciences, University of Nebraska – Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA

*These authors contributed equally to this work.

Correspondence to Robert W. Hutkins, Department of Food Science and Technology, University of Nebraska – Lincoln, Lincoln, NE 68583-0919, USA. E-mail:

Copyright © 2016 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.