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Prebiotics May Reduce Traveler's Diarrhea


Taking a prebiotic dietary supplement before traveling to a foreign country was found to significantly reduce the incidence and duration of traveler’s diarrhea.

In a study by the University of Reading (UK) and reported in the September 16th issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 159 healthy subjects were given either a galacto-oligosaccharide (GOS) mixture or a placebo of maltodextrin beginning one week prior to travel and lasting throughout the duration of the 2 week vacation. Those who received the prebiotic had less diarrhea and abdominal pain plus an overall improvement to quality of life.

Prebiotic oligosaccharides are defined as a non-digestible food ingredient that stimulates the growth of selected microbes within the gastrointestinal tract. The bacteria Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are known to have health benefits, such as inhibiting certain pathogens inside the intestine.

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A 2006 study from the American Society of Microbiology found that prebiotic galacto-oligosaccharides reduced the adherence of Escherichia Coli to tissue cells. E. coli is the leading cause of traveler’s diarrhea, often due to contaminated food or drinking water.

Twenty to fifty percent of travelers may develop diarrhea depending upon the region of the world they visit. Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia are areas of highest risk, while the United States, Canada, Northern Europe and Australia pose the lowest risk.

Prophylactic antibiotics can be effective, but are often not recommended, for the prevention of traveler’s diarrhea because of possible side effects, such as photosensitivity.

GOS are used world-wide as a food ingredient in infant formulas, dairy products, fruit drinks, and cereal bars. They are “Generally Regarded as Safe” by the FDA, have a neutral taste, and are heat stable. Other health benefits of galacto-oligosaccharides may include lowered cholesterol and triglycerides, improved insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism, and improved immune system function.

Sources Include: VitaSearch, National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control