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The benefits and potential health hazards posed by the prebiotic inulin - a review

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The prebiotic inulin is a non-digestible carbohydrate which occurs naturally throughout the normal human diet. Following passage through the gastro-intestinal tract inulin ultimately becomes metabolised to fructose by colonic bacteria, especially the beneficial species, whose growth are also promoted at the expense of the harmful types. There has been much recent attention by industry and the general public in the EU concerning inulin and prebiotics, especially in the marketing of their derived/supplemented products that includes the Central & East European region, (CEE) [Halliday, 2008]. Major benefits to human health have been reported variously worldwide and chiefly consist of maintaining healthy microbial gut homeostasis, reducing gut inflammation and infection, preventing colonic cancer, increasing mineral reabsorption, decreasing cholesterol, improving bowel habits, being of use in diabetic treatments and enhancing immune function. Inulin can thus be of great potential benefit to public health not just through these physiological effects but also in helping to reduce weight by replacing fat and digestible carbohydrate in food products. It is also important however to recognise the likely hazards of inulin arising mainly from fructose intolerance and rare cases of allergy. In addition under certain medical conditions it is possible that the growth of other harmful gut bacterial species may become stimulated with a potential but as yet unproven link to autoimmune disease. This article aims to review and discuss the scientific evidence as well as addressing general concerns raised by consumers and the general public alike. Recommendations based on current knowledge are suggested at the end.

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  • Chief Sanitary Inspectorate, Dluga 38/40, 00-238 Warsaw, Poland


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