Perspectives on the role of the human gut microbiota and its modulation by pro- and prebiotics

Nutr Res Rev. 2000 Dec;13(2):229-54. doi: 10.1079/095442200108729089.


One of the most topical areas of human nutrition is the role of the gut in health and disease. Specifically, this involves interactions between the resident microbiota and dietary ingredients that support their activities. Currently, it is accepted that the gut microflora contains pathogenic, benign and beneficial components. Some microbially induced disease states such as acute gastroenteritis and pseudomembranous colitis have a defined aetiological agent(s). Speculation on the role of microbiota components in disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, bowel cancer, neonatal necrotising enterocolitis and ulcerative colitis are less well defined, but many studies are convincing. It is evident that the gut microflora composition can be altered through diet. Because of their perceived health-promoting status, bifidobacteria and lactobacilli are the commonest targets. Probiotics involve the use of live micro-organisms in food; prebiotics are carbohydrates selectively metabolized by desirable moieties of the indigenous flora; synbiotics combine the two approaches. Dietary intervention of the human gut microbiota is feasible and has been proven as efficacious in volunteer trials. The health bonuses of such approaches offer the potential to manage many gut disorders prophylactically. However, it is imperative that the best methodologies available are applied to this area of nutritional sciences. This will undoubtedly involve a genomic application to the research and is already under way through molecular tracking of microbiota changes to diet in controlled human trials.