The marine environment is an untapped source of bioactive compounds. Specifically, marine macroalgae (seaweeds) are rich in polysaccharides that could potentially be exploited as prebiotic functional ingredients for both human and animal health applications. Prebiotics are non-digestible, selectively fermented compounds that stimulate the growth and/or activity of beneficial gut microbiota which, in turn, confer health benefits on the host. This review will introduce the concept and potential applications of prebiotics, followed by an outline of the chemistry of seaweed polysaccharides. Their potential for use as prebiotics for both humans and animals will be highlighted by reviewing data from both in vitro and in vivo studies conducted to date.
Keywords: human and animal health; marine macroalgae; polysaccharides; prebiotics.