Experimental evidences on the potential of prebiotic fructans to reduce the risk of colon cancer

Br J Nutr. 2002 May;87 Suppl 2:S273-81. doi: 10.1079/BJNBJN/2002548.


Inulin is extracted from the chicory root. It is a set of fructans with its monomers linked by means of beta(2-1) bonds. This linkage cannot be hydrolysed by either pancreatic or by brush border digestive enzymes in the upper intestinal tract of humans. As such the carbohydrates arrive in the colon, where they are fermented by bifidobacteria and other lactic acid producing bacteria, thus enhancing their relative populations in the gut. Recent research in experimental animal models revealed that inulin has significant anticarcinogenic properties. It acts chemopreventively by reducing the incidence of azoxymethane (AOM) - induced aberrant crypt foci and tumours in the colon. These effects may be due to the stimulation of bifidobacteria, which themselves have been shown to act as antigenotoxic in the colon and to reduce AOM-induced tumours. Also fermentation products, including the short-chain fatty acid butyrate, could contribute to the protective effects. In this case a mechanism may be the induction of apoptosis of already transformed cells. The experimental evidence from animal studies and from studies elucidating potential mechanisms strongly supports the possibility that inulin will contribute to reducing risks for colon cancer in humans. In order to obtain more insight into this possibility, human dietary intervention studies relating biomarkers of reduced risk to inulin consumption are needed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Azoxymethane / metabolism
  • Bifidobacterium / metabolism
  • Colon / microbiology
  • Colonic Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Dietary Fiber / administration & dosage*
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile / metabolism
  • Fermentation
  • Fructans / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Inulin / administration & dosage
  • Inulin / metabolism
  • Lactobacillus / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Models, Animal
  • Rats


  • Dietary Fiber
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile
  • Fructans
  • Inulin
  • Azoxymethane