Inulin and oligofructose have moved into the mainstream of functional ingredients and now consumer education must intensify. That was the message of the opening presentations of the 5th Orafti Research Conference held at Harvard Medical School, Boston, in late September. The meeting was organized to provide a forum for scientists to discuss recent evidence on the health benefits of inulin and oligofructose.
Johanna Dwyer, senior nutrition scientist at the Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md., kicked off the two-day conference by challenging researchers to identify the best and most accurate way to relay to consumers the health benefits of consuming certain foods. She emphasized that it is critical that manufacturers be able to tell consumers the doses of oligofructose and inulin that produce beneficial effects.
The speakers that followed, researchers from around the world who have extensively studied the benefits of consuming oligofructose and inulin, suggested that meeting Dwyer’s challenge is very possible. Indeed, the speakers’ cutting-edge research on how oligofructose and inulin consumption delivers proven health benefits in many areas will make it possible for manufacturers to make dose-dependent claims.
Cutting-edge research unveiledGut health is increasingly recognized by consumers as an important factor in well-being. Referred to as the “second brain,” the large intestine plays a central role in maintaining the body’s defenses against harmful bacteria and viruses. It may also help in the control of energy intake, and in the metabolism of fat and glucose. Work from the laboratory of Nathalie Delzenne, professor, at the Universite Catholique de Louvain, Brussels, Belgium, showed that feeding Beneo oligofructose to obese rats stimulates a series of complex signals from the gut that helps in the control of food intake and body weight. “Reductions in harmful blood fats, such as triglycerides, and improvements in glucose control were also seen after oligofructose supplementation,” Delzenne said. Preliminary human trials showed similar effects on food intake and satiety.
“Increased calcium alone will not fix the major problem of osteoporosis and bone fragility in Western countries,” said leading U.S. Pediatrician Steve Abrams, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston. He went on to present data in children showing that supplementation with Beneo Synergy1 not only increased calcium absorption but delivered greater bone mineral density.
This is a key step in improving bone health, suggested Kevin Cashman, professor, University College Cork, Ireland. “Osteoporosis is now seen as a pediatric condition that demands intervention from early childhood to ensure an optimal peak bone mass,” Cashman said. “Yet this does not ignore the problem of bone fragility in later life.”
Using a rat model of the post-menopause phase, Katharina Scholz-Ahrens, researcher with the Federal Research Centre for Nutrition and Food in Kiel, Germany, demonstrated increased calcium absorption and bone mineral density using prebiotics. The best result was seen with Beneo Synergy1.
Other speakers demonstrated how inulin and oligofructose could benefit consumers from birth to old age, including benefits such as reducing the risk of infant diarrhea, constipation and gut infections by boosting levels of natural friendly bacteria; decreasing immune-related chronic conditions such as allergy, asthma and inflammatory bowel disease; and prevention of colo-rectal cancer.
Joint Chairman of the conference, Allan Walker, professor at Harvard Medical School, said, “Today’s consumers are looking for foods and ingredients that offer proven health benefits. The best ways to deliver this is through scientific collaboration and communicating evidence-based health claims. We cannot delay in either of these tasks because consumers are quite capable of using the Internet to find what they need. Yet, we know that the quality of information on the Net can be poor. This is why the 5th Orafti Research Conference is so important. Here we have a forum for the leading scientists involved in inulin and oligofructose, and the chance to communicate the evidence on health benefits to a wider audience.”
Anne Franck, Orafti’s executive vice president of science and technology, concluded, “Since our last conference in 2004, a great deal of progress has been made in the research into inulin and oligofructose. The health benefits for a number of conditions are now clear while, in other areas such as immune regulation and cancer, we are embarking upon an exciting phase that builds upon the promise of early research. There will be challenges in developing appropriate claims that are understood by the consumer but I am sure that these will be met by the combination of scientific endeavors, as seen at this conference, and the commitment of Orafti to the exciting field of research into oligofructose and inulin.”