Recent advancements in food science have resulted in the extraction and synthesis of novel dietary fibers or prebiotics. Subsequently, great interest has emerged in developing strategies to improve metabolic conditions like osteoporosis by modulating the intestinal microbiome with fiber. Prebiotics have been shown to increase calcium absorption in the lower gut of both animals and humans as well as improve measures of bone mineral density and strength in rodent models. Fewer data are available in humans, but data from growing children and postmenopausal women suggest that prebiotics have both short- and long-term effects that beneficially affect bone turnover and mineral accretion in the skeleton. Currently, the exact mechanism by which these products elicit their effects on bone is poorly understood, but emerging data suggest that the gut microbiota may be involved in one or more direct and indirect pathways. The most well-accepted mechanism is through microbial fermentation of prebiotics which results in the production of short-chain fatty acids and a concomitant decrease in pH which increases the bioavailability of calcium in the colon. While other mechanisms may be eliciting a prebiotic effect on bone, the current data suggest that novel dietary fibers may be an affordable and effective method of maximizing mineral accretion in growing children and preventing bone loss in later years when osteoporosis is a greater risk. This chapter will discuss the dynamic role of prebiotics in bone health by discussing the current state of the art, addressing gaps in knowledge and their role in public health.
Keywords: Adolescents; Bifidobacteria; Bone density; Calcium absorption; Children; Fiber; Microbiome; Microbiota; Mineral; Osteoporosis; Postmenopausal women; Prebiotic; Skeleton.