Is strain-specificity of prebiotics a limitation or opportunity?

Research raises questions about synbiotic definitions, says probiotics firm.

Strain-specificity of prebiotics is not a limiting factor but rather an opportunity to develop the ‘next generation’ of synbiotic formulations, says Winclove Probiotics in response to unflattering results of a study on synbiotics. 

Last month, research published in the Journal of Functional Foods questioned the gut health benefits of synbiotics, saying they may be limited since only specific combinations enhance probiotic survival and growth. 

The researchers found that three out of the five probiotics looked at could not utilise any of the three prebiotics used, showing growth of less than 20% compared to that seen with glucose. 

However, the Dutch probiotic supplier Winclove Probiotics responded saying, “the strain-specificity of prebiotics is not a limiting factor for optimising gut health but rather an opportunity to develop the 'next generation' of highly effective synbiotic formulations. 

“In order to maximise the gut health benefits of synbiotics it is essential to take into consideration the strain-specificity of prebiotics (in vitro) as well as functionality of both pre- and probiotics during product formulation,” the company told NutraIngredients.   

Define synbiotic 

The firm added that such research raised questions about how synbiotics and their potential benefits were defined. It suggested probiotic bacteria and prebiotics should be regarded as having its own individual functionality contributing to overall synergy in aiding gut health.   

The company said a good example of prebiotics and probiotics playing their own individual role would be short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). 

The SCFA butyrate supplies energy to colonic cells, and can be produced through bacteria fermentation of prebiotic substrates. Since Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species do not produce butyrate, its production through the colonic bacteria is only possible via the addition of prebiotics, the company said. 

“Bacterial cross-feeding can produce additional butyrate. For example, acetate and/or lactate, SCFAs produced by Bifidobacteria, can be converted into butyrate by other colonic bacteria.”

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