The EU-funded team said that a symbiotic treatment significantly improved several bio-markers for colon cancer risk in the first human trial to investigate the supplement's effect on colon cancer.
Cancer of the colon or rectum is the second deadliest form of cancer after lung cancer but is also considered one of the most preventable types of cancer, as there are several dietary factors that appear to play a protective role against the disease.
Researchers believe that synbiotics can be more potent than their prebiotic or probiotic components alone as they both replace the beneficial bacteria in the gut and add a carbohydrate source that stimulates the bacteria to multiply, encouraging the body's own defence mechanisms to manage disease.
It has previously been shown that synbiotics added to the diet of animals can reduce the development of cancer dramatically. In the new study, 80 human volunteers who had either had intestinal polyps (precancerous lesions) removed or had been treated for colon cancer were given placebo or synbiotic daily for 12 weeks. The synbiotic treatment consisted of 10g of RaftiloseSynergy1, made by inulin supplier Orafti, and probiotic bacteria in capsule form.
The synbiotic group showed significantly decreased genotoxic damage, or damage to the cells' DNA, compared with those who consumed the placebo. DNA repair was also improved. Another important result was that cell proliferation rate was reduced in the synbiotic group.
The results suggest that this synbiotic composition may provide a protective effect against colorectal cancer. However the researchers do not yet fully understand the the mechanism behind such effects.
Professor Kevin Collins of University College Cork in Ireland, who presented the results at an Orafti research conference held in Paris in February, predicted that the use of synbiotics could lead to a dramatic change in the morbidity and mortality pattern of colorectal cancer in the developed world.
Probiotic and synbiotic bacteria are increasingly being investigated for a potential role in clinical practice as well as supplements. However a UK team, investigating whether synbiotics could impact deaths from blood poisoning after surgery by improving gut health, recently reported no positive benefits (Gut 2004 Feb;53(2):241-5). They concluded that further research is needed.
Results of the European project, dubbed Syncan, will be published as two separate articles in a scientific journal.