A Role for Prebiotics in Immune Health

Written by Roisin Pichon, Registered associate Nutritionist & Scientific Communications Executive at Clasado Biosciences

Immunity in the gut

The gut is home to trillions of microbes, such as viruses, fungi and bacteria, that have great potential to contribute to host physiology, both during periods of optimal health and in disease. These residing microbes have been shown to play a role in many areas of health, including gastrointestinal, cognitive, and immune health.

When it comes to the immune system, the gut contains 70-80% of immune cells, demonstrating an intricate relationship that exists between the microbes housed in the gut and the host immune system. The way in which the gut microbiome influences the immune response is achieved through numerous mechanisms, including the maintenance of the intestinal barrier, competitive exclusion of potential pathogens, and the production of secondary metabolites such as short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) by beneficial bacteria. SCFAs are well studied and have been shown to have a significant impact on health. From the perspective of immunity, SCFAs interact with immune cells and have immuno-protective abilities; inhibiting inflammation and enhancing the integrity and function of the intestinal barrier to prevent invasion from pathogens.

The ability of these microbes to influence immunity is largely dependent on having a favourable microbial composition, whereby an intricate balance of beneficial and less beneficial microbes needs to be maintained. However, what constitutes a healthy microbiome is up for debate and a favourable composition is likely to be unique to every individual. As many factors can influence the gut, anything that disturbs this delicate microbial community can have repercussions on immune health. It may be possible to protect immune function via modulation of the gut microbiota.

The rise of ‘biotics’

Nutrition is considered a primary modifiable factor that influences the gut and immunity, and whilst a food-first approach is always recommended, there is a growing interest in the use of ‘biotics’, such as probiotics and prebiotics, to modulate the gut microbiota and leave a more favourable composition to support health and wellbeing.

Whilst probiotics are a commonly known way to support gut health, the knowledge surrounding prebiotics is on the rise. Bimuno® is a prebiotic supplement containing a unique proprietary formulation of galactooligosaccharides, known as ‘GOS’. GOS is a type of indigestible prebiotic fibre that is scientifically proven to stimulate the proliferation of beneficial bacteria in the gut, specifically bifidobacteria, a species that is associated with extensive health benefits, including immunomodulatory properties.

Bimuno GOS is backed by more than 110 scientific publications, including more than 20 human clinical trials, and has been studied in various populations, including healthy children, adults and elderly individuals, athletes, travellers, and those with gastrointestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome.

Bimuno GOS and immunity

Studies featuring Bimuno GOS have shown immunomodulatory benefits; improving the immune response by increasing the activity of immune markers, such as natural killer cells⁴˒⁶, and the production of interleukin-10⁴˒⁶ and secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA)³˒⁴˒⁵˒⁶, as well as reducing the circulation of certain pro-inflammatory cytokines¹˒²˒⁴˒5˒⁶˒⁷ and protecting against pathogens⁸˒⁹. In the latest publication, elite athletes were supplemented with Bimuno GOS daily over 24-weeks. The results showed a reduction in the duration of upper respiratory tract symptoms whilst saliva samples revealed a significantly higher secretion rate of sIgA at the 24-week mark³, at a time when immune health may have been compromised by intense training and competition. Results such as this demonstrate the potential role prebiotics could play in the maintenance of immune health and in minimising the impact of seasonal upper respiratory infections.

With the rising interest in supporting immunity, Bimuno Immunity & Bimuno Kids Immunity contain the same unique GOS formulation, along with added vitamins C, D3 and zinc that contribute to the normal functioning of the immune system.

[1] Liu, Y., Gibson, G.R. and Walton, G.E. (2016). An In Vitro Approach to Study Effects of Prebiotics and Probiotics on the Faecal Microbiota and Selected Immune Parameters Relevant to the Elderly. PLOS ONE, [online] 11(9), p.e0162604. Available at: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0162604 [Accessed 31 Aug. 2023].

[2] Newburg, D.S., Ko, J.S., Leone, S. and Nanthakumar, N.N. (2015). Human Milk Oligosaccharides and Synthetic Galactosyloligosaccharides Contain 3′-, 4-, and 6′-Galactosyllactose and Attenuate Inflammation in Human T84, NCM-460, and H4 Cells and Intestinal Tissue Ex Vivo. The Journal of Nutrition, [online] 146(2), pp.358–367. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26701795/ [Accessed 31 Aug. 2023].

[3] Parker, C., Hunter, K.A., Johnson, M.A., Sharpe, G.R., Gibson, G.R., Walton, G.E., Poveda, C., Cousins, B. and Williams, N.C. (2023). Effects of 24-week prebiotic intervention on self-reported upper respiratory symptoms, gastrointestinal symptoms, and markers of immunity in elite rugby union players. European Journal of Sport Science, [online] pp.1–8. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17461391.2023.2216657 [Accessed 31 Aug. 2023].

[4] Vulevic, J., Drakoularakou, A., Yaqoob, P., Tzortzis, G. and Gibson, G. (2008). Modulation of the fecal microflora profile and immune function by a novel trans-galactooligosaccharide mixture (B-GOS) in healthy elderly volunteers. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, [online] 88(5), pp.1438–1446. Available at: https://ajcn.nutrition.org/article/S0002-9165(23)23376-6/fulltext [Accessed 31 Aug. 2023].

[5] Vulevic, J., Juric, A., Tzortzis, G. and Gibson, G.R. (2013). A Mixture of trans-Galactooligosaccharides Reduces Markers of Metabolic Syndrome and Modulates the Fecal Microbiota and Immune Function of Overweight Adults. The Journal of Nutrition, [online] 143(3), pp.324–331. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23303873/ [Accessed 31 Aug. 2023].

[6] Vulevic, J., Juric, A., Walton, G.E., Claus, S.P., Tzortzis, G., Toward, R.E. and Gibson, G.R. (2015). Influence of galacto-oligosaccharide mixture (B-GOS) on gut microbiota, immune parameters and metabonomics in elderly persons. British Journal of Nutrition, [online] 114(4), pp.586–595. Available at: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/influence-of-galactooligosaccharide-mixture-bgos-on-gut-microbiota-immune-parameters-and-metabonomics-in-elderly-persons/655F206AD190CB7C142893339E67811B [Accessed 31 Aug. 2023].

[7] Williams, N.C., Johnson, M.A., Shaw, D.E., Spendlove, I., Vulevic, J., Sharpe, G.R. and Hunter, K.A. (2016). A prebiotic galactooligosaccharide mixture reduces severity of hyperpnoea-induced bronchoconstriction and markers of airway inflammation. British Journal of Nutrition, [online] 116(5), pp.798–804. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27523186/ [Accessed 31 Aug. 2023].

[8] Drakoularakou, A., Tzortzis, G., Rastall, R.A. and Gibson, G.R. (2009). A double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized human study assessing the capacity of a novel galacto-oligosaccharide mixture in reducing travellers’ diarrhoea. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, [online] 64(2), pp.146–152. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/ejcn2009120 [Accessed 5 Sep. 2023].

[9] Hasle, G., Raastad, R., Bjune, G., Jenum, P.A. and Heier, L. (2017). Can a galacto-oligosaccharide reduce the risk of traveller’s diarrhoea? A placebo-controlled, randomized, double-blind study. Journal of Travel Medicine, [online] 24(5). Available at: https://academic.oup.com/jtm/article/24/5/tax057/4085921 [Accessed 5 Sep. 2023].