β2-1 fructans are considered to be prebiotics. Current literature indicates that β2-1 fructans may modulate some aspects of immune function, improve the host's ability to respond to certain intestinal infections, and modify some inflammatory outcomes in human subjects. However, there is a need to find out more about the modulation of immune markers by β2-1 fructans in humans. Healthy human subjects aged 45–65 years were randomly allocated to β2-1 fructans (Orafti® Synergy1; 8 g/d; n 22) or the digestible carbohydrate maltodextrin as placebo (n 21) for 4 weeks. Blood, saliva and faecal samples were collected at study entry and after 4 weeks. Immune parameters were measured using the blood and saliva samples and bifidobacteria were measured in the faecal samples. Faecal bifidobacteria numbers increased in the Orafti® Synergy1 group (P < 0·001) and were different at 4 weeks from numbers in the placebo group (P = 0·001). There was no significant effect of Orafti® Synergy1 on any of the immune parameters measured (blood immune cell subsets, total serum Ig, salivary IgA, neutrophil and monocyte phagocytosis of Escherichia coli and respiratory burst in response to E. coli or phorbol ester, natural killer cell activity, T cell activation and proliferation, production of six cytokines by T cells). It is concluded that, compared with maltodextrin, Orafti® Synergy1 has a bifidogenic effect in healthy middle-aged human subjects but does not alter immune responses examined in the absence of an in vivo immune challenge.
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