Dietary modulation of the human colonic microbiota through plant-derived prebiotic compounds
Kassim, Muhammad Arshad
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The human gut microbiota play a major role in host health, and attempts are being made to manipulate the composition of the gut microbiota-increase the composition of bacterial groups, such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria that are perceived as exerting health promoting properties. These bacteria defined as food supplements (probiotics) beneficially affect the host by improving the intestinal microbial balance, and have been used to change the composition of the colonic microbiota. However, such changes may be transient, and the implantation of exogenous bacteria therefore becomes limited. In contrast, prebiotics are naturally occurring carbohydrates that are classified as non-digestible oligosaccharides present in edible plants. These carbohydrates enter the colon as intact compounds, elicit systemic physiological functions and act as fermentable substrates for colonic microflora-influencing the species composition and metabolic characteristics of intestinal microflora providing important health attributes. Currently, a widely marketed prebiotic, inulin is extracted from plants of the family Asteraceae. There are many unexploited plants that are regularly consumed and that may have a prebiotic effect or can have very high levels of inulin which could make them commercially viable. In this study, we investigated prebiotic compounds, especially inulin from locally growing, non-commercialised leafy plants. The aqueous extracts of 22 plants from the families Asparagaceae, Alliaceae, Asteraceae, Solanaceae, Cucurbitaceae, Amaranthaceae, Acanthaceae, Polygonaceae, Portulaceae, Fabaceae, Chenopodiaceae, Pedaliaceae and Apiaceae from Kwa-Zulu Natal were investigated for a prebiotic effect using a modified batch-culture technique with Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Lactobacillus lactis, Lactobacillus reuteri and Bifidobacterium longum, four common probiotics and the inulin content of the plants was determined using high performance liquid chromatography. Of the 22 plants studied, Solanum nigrum, Amaranthus spinosus, Amaranthus hybridus, Asystasia gangetica, Senna occidentalis, Cerathoteca triloba, Asparagus sprengeri, Tulbaghia violacea, Sonchus oleraceus and Taraxacum officinale exhibited a prebiotic effect. The prebiotic effect of the Taraxacum officinale, Sonchus oleraceus and Asparagus sprengeri extracts on L. lactis and L. reuteri was higher than or equivalent to inulin-a commercial prebiotic. In this study, Sonchus oleraceus exhibited the best prebiotic effect-was the only plant to stimulate all the probiotics including B. longum. Of all the plants analysed, Asparagus sprengeri tuber contained the highest amount of inulin (3.55%).