Prebiotics are substances that induce the growth or activity of microorganisms (e.g., bacteria and fungi) that contribute to the well-being of their host. The most common example is in the gastrointestinal tract, where prebiotics can alter the composition of organisms in the gut microbiome.
In diet, prebiotics are typically non-digestible fiber compounds that pass undigested through the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract and stimulate the growth or activity of advantageous bacteria that colonize the large bowel by acting as substrate for them.
Preliminary research has demonstrated potential effects on calcium and other mineral absorption, immune system effectiveness, bowel acidity, reduction of colorectal cancer risk, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis) hypertension and defecation frequency. Prebiotics may be effective in decreasing the number of infectious episodes needing antibiotics and the total number of infections in children aged 0–24 months.
While research demonstrates that prebiotics lead to increased production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), more research is required to establish a direct causal connection. Prebiotics may be beneficial to inflammatory bowel disease or Crohn’s disease through production of SCFA as nourishment for colonic walls, and mitigation of ulcerative colitis symptoms.