Mechanisms of Action of Prebiotics and Their Effects on Gastro-Intestinal Disorders in Adults

Nutrients. 2020 Apr 9;12(4):1037. doi: 10.3390/nu12041037.


In recent years, research has focused on the use of dietary fibers and prebiotics, since many of these polysaccharides can be metabolized by intestinal microbiota, leading to the production of short-chain fatty acids. The metabolites of prebiotic fermentation also show anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory capabilities, suggesting an interesting role in the treatment of several pathological conditions. Galacto-oligosaccharide and short- and long-chain fructans (Fructo-oligosaccharides and inulin) are the most studied prebiotics, even if other dietary compounds seem to show the same features. There is an increasing interest in dietary strategies to modulate microbiota. The aim of this review is to explore the mechanisms of action of prebiotics and their effects on the principal gastro-intestinal disorders in adults, with a special focus on Galacto-oligosaccharides, Fructo-oligosaccharides, lactulose and new emerging substances which currently have evidence of prebiotics effects, such as xilooligosaccharides, soybean oligosaccharides, isomaltooligosaccharides, lactobionic acid, resistant starch and polyphenols.

Keywords: gastro-intestinal disorders; intestinal microbiota; oxidative stress; prebiotics.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Dietary Fiber / administration & dosage*
  • Dietary Fiber / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / metabolism
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / microbiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / therapy*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Humans
  • Inulin / administration & dosage*
  • Inulin / metabolism*
  • Lactulose / administration & dosage*
  • Lactulose / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Oligosaccharides / administration & dosage*
  • Oligosaccharides / metabolism*
  • Prebiotics / administration & dosage*


  • Dietary Fiber
  • Oligosaccharides
  • Prebiotics
  • Lactulose
  • Inulin