‘We need to achieve a prebiotic health claim to advance research in the category’: Academic

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Image: iStockPhoto / Ben-Schonewille
Image: iStockPhoto / Ben-Schonewille

Related tags Probiotic

Despite an abundance of health benefits, the lack of a prebiotic health claim in Europe is stalling research in a number of areas, says a leading prebiotic researcher.

Prof Bob Rastall, Professor of Food Biotechnology at the University of Reading in England, will give the first presentation at a workshop dedicated to prebiotics that precedes the IPA World Congress + Probiota Americas​ in Chicago, May 31-June 2.

Prof Rastall’s presentation is titled, ‘Prebiotic manipulation of the gut microbiome and metabolome: is this a health benefit?’ “I’ve been giving talks on this subject for several years,” ​he told us. “The science keeps evolving but we keep coming back to what is a health benefit. There is a lot of confusion.

“The regulatory people are still looking for a medical foods type effect. In average people there is an effect on travelers’ diarrhea, there are fewer allergies and infections in infants and children, studies show an effect on reducing post-prandial glucose levels, on increasing calcium absorption and increasing bone mineral density, and on increasing satiety, but there is still no health claim in Europe.”

Bob Rastall

The situation is further complicated by the fact that many prebiotic companies are based in Europe. “I’d say that many are not focusing on the EU as a target market,”​ he said. “Even on the probiotic side, you cannot say anything in Europe because the word ‘probiotic’ cannot be used. You have products like Actimel making claims about being sources of vitamin D and calcium.”

The lack of regulatory movement in the EU is also having an effect into research into novel and next generation prebiotics, said Prof Rastall. “Research has stalled,”​ he said. “We can look at improvements in the lab, but until we have an established prebiotic health claim why look for new forms?”

(Whilst we do have an approved health claim for inulin and bowel habit​, this is not really based on the prebiotic function of inulin – it is more of a dietary fiber effect, according to Prof Rastall.)



A prebiotic is defined as a non-digestible compound that, through its metabolization by microorganisms in the gut, modulates composition and/or activity of the gut microbiota, thus conferring a beneficial physiological effect on the host. (Bindels et al, Nat Rev​, 2015, Vol 12, pp. 303–310)

Given the exploding interest in probiotics, is there potential to boost prebiotics via synbiotics? (Synbiotics are the combination of a prebiotic and a probiotic.)

Synbiotics haven’t really developed either, said Prof Rastall, and many of the studies that have been done are confounded by not having four distinct intervention groups: a prebiotic group, a probiotic group, the synbiotic group, and placebo. Synbiotics studies can be found in the literature, he said, but it without the separate prebiotic and probiotic groups it’s difficult to say if there is a synbiotic effect.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, and the picture is definitely better in the US and Asia. “My understanding is that it’s a lot easier to have dialogue with the FDA,”​ he said. “On the other hand, ​EFSA doesn’t provide detailed enough guidance. They will tell you what they don’t like, but they don’t say what they do like. What are the criteria for a health claim? They don’t like self-reported symptoms, for example. So what measures would they accept?”

“If you talk to the scientists there is an abundance of health benefits. We need to achieve a health claim.”

“Prebiotics – Quantifying impact on host health”

The prebiotics workshop will take place Tuesday, May 31 from 1.15–5.00pm, just prior to the IPA World Congress + Probiota Americas main event. The program includes:

“Prebiotic manipulation of the gut microbiome and metabolome: is this a health benefit?”​ - Prof Bob Rastall, University of Reading

“Prebiotics from milk: discovery and characterization”​ - Dr Daniela Barile, University of California Davis

“Prebiotics in the first year of life”​ - Dr Rachael Buck, Abbott Nutrition

“Prebiotics and food allergies”​ - Prof Cathryn Nagler, The University of Chicago

“A chronic lack of dietary fiber increases gut bacterial mucus foraging and susceptibility to enteric pathogens”​ - Dr Eric Martens, University of Michigan Medical School

For more information and to register, please click HERE​.

Probiota Americas + IPA 2016 large

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