Cutting-Edge Colon Support: Boost Your Immunity with Prebiotics

Reprinted with permission of Life Extension

Prebiotics in the colon help enhance immune function.

Modern science has found that the majority of our body’s immune system originates in the digestive system—60-70% according to some estimates. The problem is that colonic digestive and immune functions decline with age, contributing to disease throughout the body.

Prebiotics are a class of nutrients that help immune-supporting bacteria to proliferate in the colon. They have been shown to optimize immune function, generating a broad array of health benefits. Cutting-edge clinical research indicates that they help to combat cancer and bone loss, and even lower cholesterol levels.

Prebiotics Complement Probiotics

Billions of bacteria inhabit the colon. Many of these healthy bacteria enhance immune function and prevent diseases in parts of the body beyond the digestive tract, including Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli.

Probiotics are dietary supplements that contain billions of these and other “beneficial” bacteria in living form. They are ingested and eventually deliver beneficial bacteria into the colon, where they increase in number and amplify their health-promoting effects.

Prebiotics complement the action of probiotics. They are nutrients that support the growth of beneficial bacteria already residing in the colon.

Scientists have found that complex carbohydrate molecules rank among the most effective of pre-biotic nutrients. The chemical bonds that hold these carbohydrates together are especially resistant to the onslaught of acids and enzymes aimed at breaking down the food we eat.

Advanced Prebiotic Technology

The science of developing and formulating pre-biotics has significantly advanced over the past decade. Optimal prebiotic formulations can now be customized, using finely calibrated molecular components to create targeted effects.

The latest research shows that prebiotic carbo-hydrates contained in the fiber of the agave plant are optimally complex, enabling them to reach the colon intact. They also take longer to break down in the colon. In laboratory studies, they have been shown to stimulate the growth of both Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli more rapidly and efficiently than other prebiotic compounds.

Ample clinical evidence indicates that supplement-ing with prebiotics results in a broad spectrum of multi-modal benefits.

Immune Support

As populations of useful bacteria decline over time, bowel-specific immunity and general immune system function deteriorate. The immune system’s overall ability to fight infection and cancer wanes, while inappropriate immune responses, including excessive inflammation, increase. The prebiotics that provide such broad-spectrum digestive support also turn out to have powerful immune-modulating characteristics throughout the body. They can both boost appropriate infection- and cancer-fighting immune functions, and also help to suppress the inflammatory response when it gets out of control.

Compelling results come from a study of critically ill trauma patients, people in whom both excessive inflammation and serious infections cause devastating effects. This study used a combination of probiotic bacteria plus a combined prebiotic formula including complex carbohydrate and resistant fiber. The supplemented patients had significantly reduced rates of infections, and also had lower rates of the disastrous systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS), which is a major killer of trauma victims who survive the initial accident. Fewer supplemented patients died, and their ICU stays were shorter, compared with control patients.

Optimal immune function is vital in preventing cancers from developing, as the immune system constantly patrols the body for cells that appear abnormal.

We now have powerful evidence that a combination of prebiotics and probiotics works to boost immune-related cancer surveillance. A supplement including probiotics plus inulin enriched with fructooligo-saccharides enhanced blood cell immune functions in a group of patients with precancerous colonic polyps. In the same study, colon cancer patients taking the supplement had increased production of the natural anti-carcinogen interferon-gamma.

Other studies have revealed that prebiotic consumption enhanced levels of cancer-fighting immune cells, while reducing production of molecules that cancer cells use to protect themselves and invade tissue. These results are important for everyone, not only for those at risk for colon cancer, since the supplements affected anti-cancer immunity throughout the body.

Waning immunity in older people can also reduce the effectiveness of valuable vaccines such as those used against both seasonal and H1N1 (“swine”) flu. Laboratory studies have shown that prebiotic fructo-oligosaccharide supplementation can enhance vaccine efficacy, increasing production of protective cytokines and enhancing survival after exposure to disease. And protective antibodies secreted into the bowel as well as those in the blood are markedly increased in mice given prebiotics and probiotics in combination.

Allergic diseases and eczema are also the result of an imbalanced immune response. Finnish allergists have been able to prevent eczema in infants at high risk for developing the disease simply by feeding their mothers a probiotic/prebiotic mixture during the final weeks of pregnancy, and continuing the supplements in the newborns. Remarkably, a similar study showed not only that the allergy-protective effect lasted beyond the end of treatment, but also that supplemented infants had fewer episodes of respiratory infections and asthma as well. These results are so powerful that they’ve led to calls by experts to include prebiotics and probiotics in infant formulas.

Digestive Support

Populations of beneficial bacteria in the lower intestine decline with age. This is one of the causes of disease in the digestive tract. It is also one reason why older people are more susceptible to gastrointestinal disorders than young adults. A plethora of studies indicate that prebiotics can help to replenish useful bacteria to the colon and restore youthful balance to the gut ecology.

Prebiotics have been successfully used in preventing traveler’s diarrhea and can reduce symptoms of constipation. Prebiotic supplementation has also proven critical in promoting uptake of vital nutrients such as calcium and iron, which aging individuals often have difficulty absorbing.

Research suggests that prebiotics may lower cholesterol by increasing its elimination from the digestive tract. Pre-clinical models indicate prebiotics may also increase insulin sensitivity, in part by favorably modulating gene expression associated with fatty acid and glucose metabolism.

Millions suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). While its causes are unclear, IBS remains one of the most common functional gastrointestinal disorders. IBS produces painful bouts of diarrhea, gas, and cramping, often alternating with constipation, and few natural supplements are effective (drug treatments have recently been restricted because of adverse events). Prebiotics—alone or in combination with probiotics—are finding growing acceptance, even within the mainstream medical community, as a primary treatment for IBS.

As a water-soluble, non-gelling fiber, guar gum also plays a major role in managing IBS, decreasing painful or uncomfortable symptoms. Guar gum supplementation has proven especially effective in combating diarrhea and constipation. It binds and retains water in stool, softening hard stools and solidifying liquid ones.Guar gum is also much better tolerated and easier to use by IBS patients than other forms of dietary fiber such as wheat bran.

Guar gum’s effects extend beyond the digestive tract. It helps lower glucose absorption, blunting the after-meal spike of blood sugar that can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes.40 It has been shown to inhibit absorption of dietary cholesterol and fats, helping to promote cardiovascular health.

There is significant clinical evidence that prebiotics used in combination with select probiotics may also reduce the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). They have been shown to powerfully inhibit the destructive inflammatory response that underlies many chronic diseases—both in the colon and entire body. The effects of the pre-and probiotic combination emerged in a 2005 study of patients with ulcerative colitis, a form of inflammatory bowel disease.

Patients received placebo or a supplement combination of Bifidobacteria probiotic with a fructo-oligosaccharide prebiotic. Evidence of inflammation on colonoscopy was markedly reduced in patients taking the supplement combination compared with controls, and inflammatory cytokine levels dropped significantly. Other studies have shown that increasing levels of both Bifidobacteria and butyrate produced from prebiotics contribute to suppressing inflammation in inflammatory bowel disease.

In a study involving a group of healthy elderly volunteers, prebiotics stimulated Bifidobacteria growth and increased cholesterol excretion in as little as four weeks. The study showed that during the prebiotics period the subjects eliminated four times as much cholesterol as they did before supplementation. These results show how powerfully prebiotics can help us excrete cholesterol that would otherwise be absorbed and contribute to poor health.

Bone Health

Both animal and human studies further demonstrate that prebiotics facilitate optimal calcium absorption, a critical factor in preventing bone loss. Soy isoflavone supplements can help reduce bone loss when used alone, but they are not universally well absorbed. In a recent pre-clinical study, adding a prebiotic supplement dramatically boosted the beneficial effects and made even the lowest isoflavone dose effective. Use of prebiotics has also been shown to enhance the bioavailability of isoflavones and increase bone mineral density in mice. Researchers have further demonstrated that both short- and long-term prebiotic supplementation enhances calcium absorption and bone mineralization in humans.

Summary

Optimal distribution of beneficial bacteria in the colon plays an essential role in overall health, assisting in digestion and absorption of vital nutrients. The digestive tract also serves as a frontline defense for the immune system. Digestive and immune functions decline with age, leaving individuals vulnerable to a host of disorders. Prebiotics counter these effects and enhance bowel health with total-body immune system support. Recent advances in prebiotic technology have yielded sophisticated compounds to address these health problems. A wealth of clinical data indicates that the prebiotic activity of agave and guar gum may powerfully counter age-related declines in digestive function.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Health Advisor at 1-866-864-3027.

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