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Prebiotics May Help Prevent Colon Cancer


A new study from Germany notes that prebiotics may prevent the growth of colon cancer cells as well as promote the death of the cancer cells once they are present. The findings on prebiotics and colon cancer were published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Prebiotics, according to the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics website, are “non-digestive substances that when consumed provide a beneficial physiological effect on the host by selectively stimulating the favorable growth or activity of a limited number of indigenous bacteria.” In other words, prebiotics are foods or supplements that are capable of helping beneficial or “good” bacteria in the body better perform their functions. Prebiotics stimulate change through the process of fermentation.

The authors of the current study found that when they exposed human colon cells that were in both the early and late stages of colon cancer to prebiotics, the colon cancer cells that were in the early stage of disease “responded more sensitively.” This response by the colon cancer cells indicates that prebiotics may have a role in preventing the disease in the early stages.

More specifically, the scientists incubated the two sets of human colon cancer cells with prebiotic fermentation products. This resulted in a 2.5-fold increase in short-chain fatty acid levels and a 3.4-fold decrease in deoxycholic acid. These conditions were favorable for inhibiting the growth and inducing the death (apoptosis) of colon cancer cells.

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Previous studies have suggested that prebiotics may be effective against colon cancer, and that ability is credited to the production of short-chain fatty acids when fermented by bacteria in the intestinal tract. The current study adds to this field of knowledge and will spark additional research into the utility of prebiotics in the fight against colon cancer.


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International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics

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Munjal U et al. British Journal of Medicine 2009 Sep; 102(5): 663-71