"Our study is the first one to evaluate the effects of OF supplementation on modulation of microflora with tolerance and well-being in young children attending day-care centres," wrote lead author Anne-Judith Waligora-Dupriet from the Université René Descartes, Paris.
Considerable research has already focused on the role of inulin and oligofructose in bone health and colorectal cancer, and the science is now expanding in ever-increasing circles to cover potential benefits for the immune system, weight management, and intestinal health.
Belgium's Orafti, who supported this new research, has been influential in building the science behind inulin and oligofructose, backing research into potential benefits for a variety of health conditions.
The new study, published on-line ahead of print in the International Journal of Food Microbiology recruited 35 healthy children aged between 7-19 months and after eight days of observation randomly assigned them to receive either an oligofructose (OF) supplement (Beneo P95, Orafti) or a maltodextrin placebo for 21 days.
Dr. Waligora-Dupriet and her colleagues collected faecal samples in order to determine intestinal flora populations, as well as recording health information every day.
In the OF group, the researchers found that levels of bifidobacteria increased as a result of supplementation, rising from 9.1 to 9.5 log10 CFU/g of faeces, while decreasing slightly in the control group from 9.2 to 9.0 log10 CFU/g of faeces.
"Bifidobacteria are thought to lower the intestinal pH through their fermentation end-products, i.e. acetic and lactic acids, leading to the inhibition of the growth of potentially pathogenic bacteria," said the researchers.
At the same time, prebiotic supplement resulted in a significant decrease in the potential pathogen, clostridia, but not staphylococci, and these changes did not continue after the supplementation was stopped.
"The number of infectious diseases requiring antibiotic treatment, the number of episodes of flatulence, diarrhoea, vomiting and fever were significantly lower in the OF group as compared to the control group as well as the number of children who start to vomit," reported the researchers.
A decrease in flatulence was also recorded for the prebiotic group, linked to the reduced intestinal population of clostridia, which are known gas-producing bacteria.
"Our results confirm that oligofructose exerts beneficial effects to health and well-being," wrote Waligora-Dupriet.
"The results of this study indicate good tolerance and clinical benefits of OF supplementation. Despite the slight modulation of intestinal microflora, a link between clinical benefits and flora's modification cannot be excluded. Further studies on a larger number of children are needed," she concluded.