Gum arabic shows prebiotic potential in humans: Study

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Gut flora

Ten grams of gum arabic may produce a prebiotic effect in humans by boosting gut populations of specific bacteria, says a new study from Kerry.

Four weeks of supplementation with the company’s Emulgold-branded gum arabic led to significant increases in Bifidobacteria​ and Lactobacilli​ bacteria, according to results published in the British Journal of Nutrition​.

Wim Calame from the Kerry Group Nutrition Technical Center, in collaboration with scientists from NutriScience BV and Kerry Ingredients, also report that the 10 gram dose led to significantly higher numbers of Bifidobacteria​, Lactobacilli​ and Bacteroides​ than for inulin, at like for like doses.

“It is concluded that gum arabic establishes prebiotic efficacy, at least as good as inulin,” ​wrote the researchers.

The burgeoning prebiotic market has been largely created by three inulin producers, all of which are based in Europe. Modern recommendations for inulin and oligofructose intake are between five and eight grams per day.

Other ingredient manufacturers are increasingly looking to promote the prebiotic effect of their products as evidence suggests that prebiotics could be even more useful than the probiotic bacteria that they feed.

Prebiotic ingredients, or those that boost the growth of beneficial probiotic bacteria in the gut, are worth about €90 million in the European marketplace but are forecast to reach €179.7 million by 2010, according to Frost & Sullivan.

Study details

The researchers recruited 54 healthy human volunteers (average age 30.9) and assigned them to various daily doses of gum arabic, including 5, 10, 20, and 40 grams in water. Water with no gum arabic was used as a control.

Using Bifidobacteria​ and Lactobacilli​ as potentially beneficial bacteria, and Bacteroides​, Clostridium difficile​ and Enterococci​ as potentially non-beneficial, Calame and his co-workers report significant increases in Bifidobacteria​ and Lactobacilli​ species after four weeks.

Moreover, the optimal dose was ten grams per day.

"The results of the present study demonstrate that gum arabic (EmulGold) bears prebiotic efficacy within a dose range similar to or lower than inulin, as established via the quantitative development of bacteria in stool samples,"​ wrote the researchers.

"Taking into account its functional properties within food matrices this compound will be an attractive ingredient for the functional food segment. To what extent it will also exhibit other physiologically relevant properties remains open for further studies,"​ they concluded.

Definitions and potential

Prebiotics are defined as "nondigestible substances that provide a beneficial physiological effect on the host by selectively stimulating the favourable growth or activity of a limited number of indigenous bacteria"​.

The vast majority of science for prebiotics focuses on inulin and oligofructose, with health benefits reported to include improving bones health, reducing the risk of colorectal cancer, boosting immunity, and enhancing satiety and aiding weight management.

Gum facts

The supply of gum arabic (E414 in the EU), also known as acacia gum because it comes from Acacia trees in the gum belt of Africa, is variable due to political and climatic factors in the primary producing countries like Sudan and Nigeria and this has led to spikes in the price of the ingredient.

Gum arabic, known as the Rolls Royce' of gums, is widely used by the food and beverage industry, and the top producers (mainly Sudan) bring about 50,000 tonnes of the gum to the market each year.

Source: British Journal of Nutrition​ December 2008, Volume 100, Issue 6, Pages 1269-1275 “Gum arabic establishes prebiotic functionality in healthy human volunteers in a dose-dependent manner”​Authors: W. Calame, A.R. Weseler, C. Viebke, C. Flynn, A.D. Siemensma

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