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Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2003 Sep;6(5):581-6.

Prebiotics: actual and potential effects in inflammatory and malignant colonic diseases.

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School of Pharmacy, Université Catholique de Louvain, UCL-PMNT 7369, 73 Avenue Mounier, B-1200 Brussels, Belgium.



This paper will summarize the most recent clinical and experimental data on the effects of prebiotics in inflammatory and cancerous diseases of the large intestine.


Animal studies, as well as data obtained in in-vitro cell culture systems, have underlined the potential of certain prebiotics to protect against inflammatory and cancerous processes in the large intestine. Clinical trials are now in progress to assess the relevance of these promising results. The biochemical mechanisms are still incompletely deciphered, but both the promotion of lactic acid-producing bacteria and the production of short-chain fatty acids, particularly butyrate, during the fermentation of prebiotics could be key factors.


Enteric resident bacteria are involved in inflammatory bowel diseases and may contribute to colonic carcinogenesis. Dietary manipulation of the flora may thus represent a useful aid to prevent or to treat these diseases, and this could be a place for prebiotics. Inulin-like prebiotics have shown encouraging results in animal models, but clinical and epidemiological trials are necessary to define their efficacy in humans. In the next few years, important advances are expected in understanding the interactions between prebiotics, intestinal flora and the colonic mucosa in health and diseases, enabling the improvement of therapy as well as better nutritional handling of susceptible individuals.

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