Could Prebiotic Snacks Boost Healthy Gut Bacteria In Obesity?

Our gut contains archaebacteria, viruses, and fungi that are collectively known as the “gut microbiota.” Microbiota affect both our physical and mental health. Unfortunately, diets high in fat and lacking in dietary plant fibers fail to keep our microbiota well-fed. Because a healthy microbiota can help fend off a long list of conditions including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity, scientists are testing new foods to promote microbiota health, including prebiotic snacks.(1,2)

Prebiotic Snacks Obesity Study Team

A team at the Center for Gut Microbiome and Nutrition Research at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, MO, is researching the possible positive effects that prebiotic snack products might have on the gut microbiota. Previously they found that the fiber sources that can boost gut microbes tend to be lacking in obese adults. The current research tests the effects of fiber rich snacks in mice and human gut microbiota. (1,3)

“Since snacks are a popular part of Western diets, we are working to help develop a new generation of snack food formulations that people will like to eat and that will support a healthy gut microbiome that affects many aspects of wellness,” says senior author Prof. Jeffrey I. Gordon, M.D. (1)

Prebiotic Snacks Obesity Study On Mice

First they raised mice in sterile conditions to ensure they lacked gut microbes. Next, the mice’s guts were colonized with obese humans’ microbes. The last step was feeding the mice a high fat, low fiber diet common to people with weight issues. During washout periods, snacks containing fiber from peas, oranges or barley bran were fed to the mice. (1)

Researchers tracked the effects of each type of fiber snack on their gut microbiota using fecal samples. They found the snacks increased the genes needed to produce enzymes for digesting each type of snack fiber. (1)

Prebiotic Snacks Obesity Study On Humans

Similar tests were performed on obese and overweight humans. They ate the same high fat, low fiber diet and then were fed the snack bars containing pea fiber. The participants experienced similar results with increased genes required for digesting fiber. (1)

Further snacks containing different types of fiber were provided for snacking including a combination of either pea fiber and inulin or inulin, pea fiber, orange fiber, and barley bran. The results found the more fiber in the snacks, the more bacterial genes involved in metabolizing the fiber. As well the genetic changes subjects experienced were closely correlated with blood protein level changes that contribute to various physiological processes including: (1)

  • Glucose metabolism
  • Immunity
  • Blood coagulation
  • Blood vessel function
  • Biology of bone and nerve cells

These results show the responsiveness of gut microbiota when exposed to dietary fiber changes for people used to eating less fiber. (1)

Prebiotic Snacks Obesity Study Limitations

“In principle, the fibers can be incorporated into a variety of snack formats familiar to consumers — chips, bars, biscuits, etc.,” says Prof. Gordon. There are limitations of the study including the fact participants adhered to a strict diet they wouldn’t eat in real life. “Follow-on studies involve administering the snack food prototypes to participants who are consuming their normal diets,” says Prof. Gordon. “This approach can provide insights about the robustness of the effects, and dose dependency, of fiber snack formulations on the gut microbiome and host physiology under more realistic consumer settings.” (1)

Prebiotic Snacks Obesity Further Research

Although the study identified protein biomarkers possibly related to physiological changes in the blood, further trials are required to determine if such snacks could help prevent obesity. The Weizmann Institute of Science’s Avner Leshem and Eran Elinav in Rehovot, Israel, believe the study provides valuable insights into how microbial contributions affect human dietary responses. They believe the study will lead to further trials that study possible links between food ingredients and microbiome modulation to see how it affects outcome in humans. (1)

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