Background: Inulin, consisting of repetitive fructosyl units linked by β(2,1) bonds, is a readily fermentable fiber by intestinal bacteria that generates large quantities of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). In individuals with constipation, it was reported that inulin ingestion was associated with a significant increase in stool frequency, suggesting a potential impact of inulin on human gut microbiota composition. Progress in high-throughput technologies allow assessment of human-associated microbiomes in terms of diversity and taxonomic or functional composition, and can identify changes in response to a specific supplementation. Hence, to understand the effects of inulin on the human gut microbiome is pivotal to gain insight into their mechanisms of action.
Methods: Here, we conducted a systematic review of human studies in adult individuals showing the effects of inulin on the gut microbiome. We searched in MEDLINE, EMBASE, Web of Science, and Scopus databases for articles in English published in peer-reviewed journals and indexed up until March 2019. We used multiple search terms capturing gut microbiome, gut microflora, intestinal microbiota, intestinal flora, gut microbiota, gut flora, microbial gut community, gut microbial composition, and inulin.
Results: Overall, nine original articles reported the effects of inulin on microbiome composition in adult humans, most of them being randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials (n = 7). Studies varied significantly in design (3 studies associated inulin and oligofructose), supplementation protocols (from 5 to 20 gr per day of inulin consumed) and in microbiome assessment methods (16S sequencing, n = 7). The most consistent change was an increase in Bifidobacterium. Other concordant results included an increase in relative abundance of Anaerostipes, Faecalibacterium, and Lactobacillus, and a decrease in relative abundance of Bacteroides after inulin supplementation.
Conclusions: Our systematic review assessed the evidence for the effects of inulin supplementation on the human gut microbiome. However, these in vivo studies did not confirm in vitro experiments as the taxonomic alterations were not associated with increase in short-chain fatty acids levels.
Keywords: Diversity; Gut microbiome; Inulin; Prebiotic; Short-chain fatty acids.