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Prebiotics: An Ingredient Revolution

Research on microbes could lead to
another goat health enhancement option

By Dr, Carrie Ruxton

Public Health Nutritionist
Nutrition-Communications, UK

Probiotics, friendly bacteria delivered in food and beverage products, have seen a dramatic growth in popularity over the last few years. More and more European and U.S. consumers are willing to buy premium priced foods to improve their health. Probiotics are also well-known to dairy goat enthusiasts who feed them to augment the digestional health of their animals.

However, probiotics health properties are limited because not all of the beneficial bacteria reach the large intestine (colon) where they are needed, instead many are destroyed by the stomach acids and secretions in the digestive tract, especially in the four-stomach ruminant body of the dairy goat. Probiotics also have a relatively short shelf life. These difficulties have led nutritional scientists to develop the next generation of gut-friendly "prebiotics."

Scientists and researchers in the United Kingdom (England) have zeroed in on something new which may revolutionize the health and wellbeing of digestive systems. It is hoped that prebiotics, oligo-saccharide carbohydrates which are consumed preferentially by the "good bacteria" in the gut, such as bifidobacteria, will be the best thing to hit the health-conscious market for humans, their pets and livestock.

It has been laboratory proven that prebiotics stimulate optimal growth rates in the beneficial bacteria, creating an environment in the colon which represses harmful bacteria.

Very little prebiotic is needed daily (about two teaspoons for adults, 1/2 to one teaspoon for children) to positively affect wellbeing and, as it can be processed and has no taste except for a very slight sweetening effect, it is ideal as a food supplement for even the pickiest eater.

In fact, a dose of prebiotic is so versatile that it can be put in almost any processed food, including staple foods for humans such as bread and cereal, and every day foods such as biscuits, tinned foods, soup, dairy products, sweets, chocolates, soya, edible oils such as margarine and cooking oil, and a multitude of drinks, even water. It can also be put into pet foods and farm animal feeds. It is likely to become important in animal feeds as an alternative way of improving general wellbeing of animals and a growth enhancer. These characteristics are especially important as antibiotics are scheduled to be limited in the future and lose their effectiveness over time.

Studies show the beneficial effects of prebiotics include: protection against intestinal infections by hampering growth of the pathogens; the production of B vitamins; the production of acetate which can contribute up to 10 percent of a person’s daily energy requirement; the production of short chain fatty acids; the relief of constipation; and improved mineral absorption particularly calcium, magnesium and iron.

Certain prebiotics can be found naturally in small quantities in some fruit and vegetables, and human breast milk. One of the latest and best prebiotics has been developed from natural ingredients by Clasado which runs the prebiotic information website www.prebiotic.org. Clasado’s super-prebiotic, whose patent application is pending, is especially beneficial to bifidobacteria combining this with a unique anti-adhesion property. The anti-adhesion effect means that pathogenic bacteria, such as enteropathogenic e-coli and salmonella typhimurium, passing through the digestive tract, attach themselves to the Clasado prebiotic and are therefore "flushed" out of the gastrointestinal tract, being unable to attach and anchor themselves to the colon wall. This has been confirmed by laboratory trials and could be especially beneficial to dairy goat producers looking for ways to combat similar-type illnesses which sometimes strike bottle and lamb-bar fed dairy kids.

A staggering 80% of people in the western world are lacking sufficient fiber. The recommendation for adults is 18g to 30g of dietary fiber a day, unfortunately the average diet contains only around 12g.

The problem is that most people do not eat enough specific foods to sustain beneficial bacteria and to make matters worse, a lot of foods commonly eaten in today’s fast-paced society are those that pathogens thrive on. Once pathogens are in ascendance they can rule the gut for a long time. When the balance is addressed and beneficial resident bacteria is fed, the body will feel healthier, have a stronger immune system and more energy through the day.

"Although probiotic and prebiotic approaches are likely to share common mechanisms of action, as their effect is impacted through the increase of beneficial colonic bacteria in both cases, they differ in composition and metabolism. The advantage of the prebiotic over the probiotic approach is that the former does not rely on culture viability in a certain formulation," said Glenn Gibson, a professor at the Food Microbial Sciences Unit at the University of Reading and the first person, along with his research partner Dr. Marcel Robertfroid, to identify prebiotics in 1995. (Van Loo et al., 1995, Moshfegh et al., 1999.)

Scientists agree that high numbers of bifidobacteria are seen as positive for health systems in humans and animals. Bifidobacteria have been shown to inhibit growth of pathogenic bacteria modulate the immune system, produce digestive enzymes, repress the activities of rotaviruses and restore microbial integrity of the gut microflora following antibiotic therapy or antibiotic-associated diarrhea (Bernet et al. 1993; Gibson & Wang, 1994; Saavedra et al. 1994, McCracken & Gaskins, 1999; Collins & Gibson, 1999). It is clear that prebiotics may play a dramatic future role being a vital component in the achievement of overall health and wellbeing for all mammals, humans and dairy goats included.

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