Prebiotics in irritable bowel syndrome and other functional bowel disorders in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials

Am J Clin Nutr. 2019 Apr 1;109(4):1098-1111. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqy376.


Background: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other functional bowel disorders (FBDs) are prevalent disorders with altered microbiota. Prebiotics positively augment gut microbiota and may offer therapeutic potential.

Objectives: The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of prebiotics compared with placebo on global response, gastrointestinal symptoms, quality of life (QoL), and gut microbiota, via systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in adults with IBS and other FBDs.

Methods: Studies were identified using electronic databases, back-searching reference lists, and hand-searching abstracts. RCTs that compared prebiotics to placebo in adults with IBS or other FBDs were included. Two reviewers independently performed screening, data extraction, and bias assessment. Outcome data were synthesized as ORs, weighted mean differences (WMDs) or standardized mean differences (SMDs) with the use of a random-effects model. Subanalyses were performed for type of FBD and dose, type, and duration of prebiotic.

Results: Searches identified 2332 records, and 11 RCTs were eligible (729 patients). The numbers responding were 52/97 (54%) for prebiotic and 59/94 (63%) for placebo, with no difference between groups (OR: 0.62; 95% CI: 0.07, 5.69; P = 0.67). Similarly, no differences were found for severity of abdominal pain, bloating and flatulence, and QoL score between prebiotics and placebo. However, flatulence severity was improved by prebiotics at doses ≤6 g/d (SMD: -0.35; 95% CI: -0.71, 0.00; P = 0.05) and by non-inulin-type fructan prebiotics (SMD: -0.34; 95% CI: -0.66, -0.01; P = 0.04), while inulin-type fructans worsened flatulence (SMD: 0.85; 95% CI: 0.23, 1.47; P = 0.007). Prebiotics increased absolute abundance of bifidobacteria (WMD: 1.16 log10 copies of the 16S ribosomal RNA gene; 95% CI: 0.06, 2.26; P = 0.04). No studies were at low risk of bias across all bias categories.

Conclusions: Prebiotics do not improve gastrointestinal symptoms or QoL in patients with IBS or other FBDs, but they do increase bifidobacteria. Variations in prebiotic type and dose impacted symptom improvement or exacerbation. This review was registered at PROSPERO as CRD42017074072.

Keywords: FBD; IBS; Prebiotics; galactooligosaccharides; inulin-type fructans.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Intestinal Diseases / microbiology
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / microbiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prebiotics / administration & dosage*
  • Quality of Life
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Young Adult


  • Prebiotics