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Prebiotics and resistance to gastrointestinal infections

  • G. R. Gibson (a1), A. L. McCartney (a1) and R. A. Rastall (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 March 2007

Acute gut disorder is a cause for significant medicinal and economic concern. Certain individual pathogens of the gut, often transmitted in food or water, have the ability to cause severe discomfort. There is a need to manage such conditions more effectively. The route of reducing the risk of intestinal infections through diet remains largely unexplored. Antibiotics are effective at inhibiting pathogens; however, these should not be prescribed in the absence of disease and therefore cannot be used prophylactically. Moreover, their indiscriminate use has reduced effectiveness. Evidence has accumulated to suggestthat some of the health-promoting bacteria in the gut (probiotics) can elicit a multiplicity of inhibitory effects against pathogens. Hence, an increase in their numbers should prove effective at repressing pathogen colonisation if/when infectious agents enter the gut. As such, fortification of indigenous bifidobacteria/lactobacilli by using prebiotics should improve protection. There are a number of potential mechanisms for lactic acid bacteria to reduce intestinal infections. Firstly, metabolic endproducts such as acids excreted by these micro-organisms may lower the gut pH to levels below those at which pathogens are able to effectively compete. Also, many lactobacilli and bifidobacteria species are able to excrete natural antibiotics, which can have a broad spectrum of activity. Other mechanisms include an improved immune stimulation, competition for nutrients and blocking of pathogen adhesion sites in the gut. Many intestinal pathogens like type 1 fimbriated Escherichia coli, salmonellae and campylobacters utilise oligosaccharide receptor sites in the gut. Once established, they can then cause gastroenteritis through invasive and/or toxin forming properties. One extrapolation of the prebiotic concept is to simulate such receptor sites in the gut lumen. Hence, the pathogen is ‘decoyed’ into not binding at the host mucosal interface. The combined effects of prebiotics upon the lactic acid flora and anti-adhesive strategies may lead towards new dietary interventions against food safety agents.

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*Corresponding author: Dr Glenn R. Gibson, fax +44 1189 357222, email
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