Fiber’s Role in a Healthy Gut
A packed house in the early morning session on Sunday, July 17, demonstrated the significance and popularity of the topic being discussed—the gut microbiome. In fact, according to speaker Andrew Hoffman, director of wellness product development at Tate & Lyle, “the amount of science and research into the microbiome and especially into our lower digestive tract has really been exploding over the last 10 years.”
So what is the microbiome? Microbiomes are the communities of microorganisms that live on or in people, plants, soil, oceans, and the atmosphere. And while the mass of organisms making up the microbiome are estimated to account for only 1–3% of total human body mass, the number of bacteria outnumber human cells 10-to-1.
In Session 001 “Innovative Technology and Emerging Research on Fiber’s Role in Gut Microbiome and Bone Health,” Hoffman explains that the goal is to develop food that can help maintain a balance, or a mutualism, between our body cells and our gut microbiome cells. When the system is in balance positive outcomes, including increased metabolism, enhanced cognitive function, and immune system development, are made possible. Dysfunctional microbiomes, on the other hand, are associated with issues including human chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and asthma.
In his role at Tate & Lyle, Hoffman has been studying how prebiotic fibers can impact the gut microbiome. Prebiotics are a selectively fermented ingredients that allow specific changes both in the composition and/or activity in the gastrointestinal microflora that confer benefits. Certain prebiotic fibers have the ability to enhance the production of short chain fatty acids (SCFA), improve anti-inflammatory activity, and strengthen the gut barrier function. Tate & Lyle’s soluble corn fiber—Promitor—has been the focus of recent research conducted by the company and also by other researchers. It has been shown to have a good digestive tolerance because it is not rapidly fermented in the colon and therefore takes longer to metabolize. The fiber has also been shown to produce SCFAs at equal levels throughout the colon.
The session’s second speaker, Connie Weaver, PhD, distinguished professor and head of the Dept. of Nutrition Science at Purdue University, offered attendees an insight into the latest research she and her team are conducting on whether prebiotic fibers can alter the gut microbiome to improve calcium absorption and utilization. In a rat study, Weaver and her team found that the prebiotic galactoolidosaccharides (GOS) improved mineral utilization, enhanced calcium and magnesium absorption, and increased the bone density, quality, and strength. When they carried out a similar study with girls aged 9–12, using 0 g, 5 g, and 10 g doses of GOS, they found that 5 g of GOS improved calcium absorption but that higher amounts didn’t increase the benefits.
Weaver and her team were then funded by Tate & Lyle to examine eight of the company’s novel fibers to test their effect on mineral metabolism and bone strength. In another rat study, the team found that all of the fibers increased calcium absorption and bone strength but the soluble corn fiber (Promitor) had the biggest positive impact on bone strength. They then conducted two studies in adolescents and one study in post-menopausal women using the soluble corn fiber. For the studies with adolescents, one involved a controlled diet and environment while the second was an effectiveness study and was not controlled. Given that, Weaver revealed she was surprised to find that both studies showed that soluble corn fiber increased calcium absorption in the lower gut by 12%.
The results shared by both Hoffman and Weaver showcase the promising field of research currently going on in the area of the gut microbiome.