We hear a lot these days about the benefits of probiotics, but a new study focusing on prebiotics may offer hope for people who are lactose intolerant. Prebiotics are compounds—typically soluble fibers—that act as a food source for probiotics and help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Researchers from the University of North Carolina believe prebiotics may help repopulate the gut with specific good bacteria known to help produce lactase—an enzyme necessary to digest milk. People who are lactose intolerant typically have low lactase levels. As a result, they have trouble digesting lactose, a sugar found in milk and foods made with milk. This often leads to uncomfortable gas, bloating, and other digestive issues.
In this new study, researchers asked a group of lactose intolerant adults to avoid drinking milk or eating milk products for a little over a month. During that same period, participants consumed either the prebiotic galactooligosaccharide (GOS) or a placebo. Dairy foods were then reintroduced into the diet and researchers analyzed the results.
Based on fecal samples taken throughout the study, researchers determined that the individuals who received the prebiotic experienced a 70% reduction in abdominal pain. And, in 90% of the prebiotic subjects there was an increase in the number of gut bacteria that break down lactose—evidence that we can alter the gut microbiome to help reestablish a healthy balance and promote optimal digestion.