Specific carbohydrates, i.e. prebiotics such as fructo-oligosaccharide (FOS), are not digested in the small intestine but fermented in the colon. Besides beneficial health effects of an enhanced bifidobacteria population, intestinal gas production resulting from fermentation can induce abdominal symptoms. Partial replacement with slowly fermented acacia gum may attenuate side effects. The aim was to compare the effects of FOS with those of a prebiotic mixture (50 % FOS and 50 % acacia gum; BLEND) and a rapidly absorbed carbohydrate (maltodextrin) on general intestinal wellbeing, abdominal comfort and anorectal sensory function. Twenty volunteers (eight male and twelve female; age 20–37 years) completed this double-blind, randomised study with two cycles of a 2-week run-in phase (10 g maltodextrin) followed by 5 weeks of 10 g FOS or BLEND once daily, separated by a 4-week wash-out interval. Abdominal symptoms and general wellbeing were documented by telephone interview or Internet twice weekly. Rectal sensations were assessed by a visual analogue scale during a rectal barostat test after FOS and BLEND treatment. Both FOS and BLEND induced more side effects than maltodextrin. Belching was more pronounced under FOS compared with BLEND (P = 0·09 for females; P = 0·01 for males), and for self-reported general wellbeing strong sex differences were reported (P = 0·002). Urgency scores during rectal barostat were higher with FOS than BLEND (P = 0·01). Faced with a growing range of supplemented food products, consumers may benefit from prebiotic mixtures which cause fewer abdominal side effects. Sex differences must be taken in consideration when food supplements are used.
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