Prebiotic fibers show gut and immune health benefits for children: RCT

By Stephen Daniells contact

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / Wavebreakmedia
© Getty Images / Wavebreakmedia

Related tags: Prebiotics, Beneo

Supplementing the diet of three- to six-year-olds with chicory root fiber may improve their gut microbiota composition and strengthen their immune defenses, says a new study.

The study is said to be the first to examine the effects of chicory root extract in this age group, with previous data supporting benefits in infants and children up to the age of two years old.

“[P]rebiotic supplementation with Orafti inulin-type fructan product with shorter and longer chains in a dose of 6 g/d for 24 wk significantly modified the levels of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus and resulted in softer stool consistency in children aged 3–6 y as compared with maltodextrin,”​ wrote the researchers in the The Journal of Nutrition​.

“The significant reduction in febrile episodes requiring a physician's consultation in the prebiotic group supports the concept of further studies on prebiotic supplementation in young children.”

“Microbiota composition matters”

The study’s findings were welcomed by Anke Sentko, VP of regulatory affairs and nutrition communication at BENEO, which supplied the Orafti inulin-type fructan used and sponsored the study.

“This study demonstrates the importance of healthy, prevention orientated eating in this age group,” ​she said. “By making small adjustments to your daily choices you can achieve significant improvements to your health status, from very early on.  It also shows, once again, that microbiota composition matters. With the chicory root fiber used in this study, we can strengthen natural defense forces. These are very exciting results that can be achieved by Orafti inulin dietary fibers.”

Study details

The new study was led by Professor Tamás Decsi and Szminoetta Lohner at the Department of Paediatrics, University of Pécs, Hungary, and included 142 boys and 128 girls aged between 3 and 6. The children were randomly assigned to consume either 6 grams per day of prebiotic fiber (Beneo) or maltodextrin (control) for 24 weeks.

The results indicated that, during the autumn and winter period, daily supplementation with the chicory root fiber was associated with improvements in the composition of the gut microbiota. Specifically, the researchers found significant increases in the relative abundance of Bifidobacterium​ (20% higher) and Lactobacillus​ (8% higher), compared to the control group.

This was accompanied by softer stools in the prebiotic group, but still within the normal range, after 12 weeks of supplementation.

Beneficial results were also observed with regards to a reduction in the incidence of febrile episodes that required medical attention, while sinusitis was also significantly lower in the prebiotic group.

However, parents of the children did not report any differences between the two groups for the number of infectious episodes and their duration.

Commenting on the potential mechanism of action, the researchers note that prebiotic fermentation produces short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), it lower the amounts of ammonia, and decreases the overall pH in the gut, which may have immunomodulatory effects and enhance the function of the intestinal barrier. There may also be a direct effect of the prebiotics on immune cells in the gut, they said.

“The findings indicate that the tested Orafti inulin-type fructan product with shorter and longer chains has an effect on microbiota composition and also might influence health outcomes related to immunity in children aged 3–6 y comparable with effects reported in infants,” ​concluded the researchers.

Interested in childhood nutrition?

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Source: The Journal of Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1093/jn/nxy120
“Inulin-Type Fructan Supplementation of 3 to 6 Year-Old Children Is Associated with Higher Fecal Bifidobacterium Concentrations and Fewer Febrile Episodes Requiring Medical Attention”
Authors: S. Lohner, et al.

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