Prebiotic inulin-type fructans and galacto-oligosaccharides: definition, specificity, function, and application in gastrointestinal disorders

J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2017 Mar:32 Suppl 1:64-68. doi: 10.1111/jgh.13700.


Prebiotics are non-digestible selectively fermented dietary fibers that specifically promote the growth of one or more bacterial genera in the gastrointestinal tract and thus provide health benefit to the host. The two most investigated prebiotics being the inulin-type fructans and galacto-oligosaccharides. Prebiotic specificity is mediated through species-specific gene clusters within saccharolytic bacteria controlled by signaling sensors for various substrates. Prebiotic health benefits are attributed to immune regulation and bacterial metabolite production. In humans, prebiotic supplementation leads to increased growth of specific gut microbiota (e.g., bifidobacteria), immune modulation, and depending on the bacterial augmentation, short-chain fatty acid production. Irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn's disease are gastrointestinal disorders associated with reductions in some gut bacteria and greater mucosal inflammation. Prebiotic supplementation studies have shown some promise at low doses for modulation of the gut bacteria and reduction of symptoms in IBS; however, larger doses may have neutral or negative impact on symptoms. Studies in Crohn's disease have not shown benefit to bacterial modulation or inflammatory response with prebiotic supplementation. Dietary restriction of fermentable carbohydrates (low FODMAP diet), which restricts some naturally occurring prebiotics from the diet, has shown efficacy in improving symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome, but it lowers the numbers of some key gut microbiota. Further research is required on the effect of prebiotics in gastrointestinal disorders and, in particular, on their use in conjunction with the low FODMAP diet.

Keywords: galacto-oligosaccharides; inulin; irritable bowel syndrome; low FODMAP; prebiotics.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bifidobacterium / growth & development
  • Crohn Disease / diet therapy*
  • Crohn Disease / immunology
  • Crohn Disease / microbiology
  • Diet, Carbohydrate-Restricted
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Disaccharides / administration & dosage
  • Disaccharides / adverse effects
  • Fructans*
  • Galactose*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / diet therapy*
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / immunology
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / microbiology
  • Monosaccharides / administration & dosage
  • Monosaccharides / adverse effects
  • Oligosaccharides* / administration & dosage
  • Oligosaccharides* / adverse effects
  • Polymers / administration & dosage
  • Polymers / adverse effects
  • Prebiotics*


  • Disaccharides
  • Fructans
  • Monosaccharides
  • Oligosaccharides
  • Polymers
  • Prebiotics
  • polyol
  • Galactose