Prebiotics are fiber supplements that serve as food for the trillions of tiny bacteria living in the gut. When taken, they can stimulate the growth of the “good” bacteria. The evolution of prebiotic supplements (as well as probiotics, which are actual bacteria ingested into the system) provide new therapeutic targets for researchers and physicians.
What the Michigan researchers found was that the fiber helps the body produce more natural killer cells — which are lethal protective substances that kill off any foreign invaders like bacteria. They also limit the amount of inflammation in the body — something that is linked to nearly every chronic illness.
PLUS: Confused about “probiotics” and “prebiotics?” Read this article to get the inside scoop!
Published in the “Journal of Nutrition,” the study reports that mice given the prebiotic “galacto-oligosaccharide” (GOS) had far reduced severity of colitis than other mice did. Colitis is the main form of inflammatory bowel disease. Mice fed GOS had a 50% reduction in colitis.
Past research has shown that certain types of foods and fibers could reduce colon cancer risk. There is something unique about certain fibers, like GOS. They can alter cells and influence the immune system in possibly hugely beneficial ways. The overall goal here was to find diet components that lowered cancer risk.
The researchers found that mice given GOS had significantly less inflammation and fewer abnormal cells. Both are precursors for colon cancer. These positive results were linked to the significant enhancement of the body’s own natural killer cells, found in the immune system and crucial in fighting off new infections in the body.
This could set the stage for some serious breakthroughs in the area of cancer research. The next step is to see how prebiotics work, finding a link that could apply to other intestinal problems as well.