Synbiotic may improve gut, immune health in elderly: Study

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Probiotic

Consumption of a combination probiotic and prebiotic supplement for two weeks was found to improve the gut and immune health of a group of seniors, according to a study conducted by Danisco.

Published in the British Journal of Nutrition, ​the study recruited 51 elderly Finnish subjects, over the age of 65, who were all users of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID).

The use of these drugs among the elderly is thought to affect intestinal health, and is most commonly linked to damage to the mucosa in the gastrointestinal tract. Danisco’s study sought to investigate whether the consumption of a synbiotic – a combination pre-and probiotic product – could benefit intestinal and immune health compromised by age-related degeneration or NSAID use.


The probiotic culture used for the study was Danisco’s L. acidophilus​ NCFM, which the company said it chose for its ability to improve intestinal microbiota metabolism, gut health and associated immune function.

The prebiotic used was the firm’s lactitol, a prebiotic disaccharide polyol derived from lactose, selected as it is said to increase faecal bifidobacteria levels and bowel movements and to support the growth of L. acidophilus ​NCFM.

Participants were randomly assigned to either a placebo (sucrose) or a synbiotic group. Both study subjects and investigators were blinded to the nature of the product.

The study consisted of a two-week run-in period, followed by a two-week intervention period, and finally a two-week wash-out period. Each two-week period ended with faecal sampling.

During the intervention period, participants consumed two sachets of the synbiotic supplement (5-5.5g) or placebo (5g) per day, mixed with yoghurt or juice. Otherwise, they followed their usual diet, which is traditionally rich in fibre (including rye bread, whole-grain porridge and berries).

Mucosal benefits

Faecal testing revealed that levels of bifidobacteria were higher in the synbiotic group (7.8 x 109 CFU/g) after intervention as compared to the placebo group (3.8 x 109 CFU/g). Levels declined for both groups after the wash-out period.

Faecal L. acidophilus ​NCFM counts at the end of the intervention period were 5.63 and 3.67 for the synbiotic and placebo group respectively. Stool frequency was found to be slightly higher in the synbiotic group as compared to the placebo group, with no side-effects reported.

“The present results indicate improved microbiota composition and mucosal functions,”​ concluded the researchers.

However, there was no conclusive evidence that the effect was synbiotic rather than additive. Danisco said further clinical studies of the individual effects of the probiotic and prebiotic are required to establish the existence of a real synbiotic benefit when the two are used in combination.

Source: Br J Nutr.​ 2009 Mar;101(3):367-75.Influence of a combination of Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM and lactitol on healthy elderly: intestinal and immune parameters​Authors: Ouwehand AC, Tiihonen K, Saarinen M, Putaala H, Rautonen N.doi: 10.1017/s0007114508003097

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