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Knowing more about FOS and GOS

In the food industry, composition and structure of human breast milk oligosaccharides cannot be reproduced. So, in order to obtain the potential beneficial effects of human breast milk oligosaccharides, then other oligosaccharides which are originated from animal and vegetal are produced and used in infant feeding. Those oligosaccharides, for example, are fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and galactooligosaccharides (GOS).

Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are compounds with a vegetable origin. They are found in foods such as onions, asparagus, artichokes and tomatoes. Their chemical structure consists of a glucose molecule bound to two, three or four fructose molecules, producing kestose, nistose and frutosil–nistose. Industry obtains FOS from beetroot via the action of fructosilfuranosidase from Aspergillus niger (Bornet FRJ; Crittenden RG, et al; Hidaka H, et al.), causing the phenomenon known as “transfructosilation”. Galactooligosaccharides (GOS) are animal compounds provided by cow’s milk. They are obtained from lactose via transgalactosilation using b-D-galactosidase synthesised by Bacillus circulans (Chonan O, et al.).

FOS are resistant to the action of intestinal and pancreatic enzymes in the human small intestine. Undigested FOS in the human small intestine are broken down in the colon by anaerobic bacteria, the dominant flora. In general, GOS is digested similarly to FOS, as their molecules are also united by betatype links. Because of its properties, therefore FOS and GOS are classified to prebiotics since they meet with the criteria of prebiotics which are:

  • Resistance of the prebiotic to degradation by stomach acid, mammalian enzymes or hydrolysis.
  • Fermentation (breakdown, metabolism) of the prebiotic by intestinal microbes.
  • Selective stimulation of the growth and/or activity of positive microorganisms in the gut.

FOS and GOS are good substrates for bacteria of the types Bifidobacterium spp. and Bacteroides spp., as they possess the enzymes necessary to metabolize them and use them for growth and development. However, they are not a good substrate for Escherichia coli, Clostridium perfringens or S. mutans, since they do not possess these enzymes. FOS and GOS (simple oligosaccharides) have other potential beneficial effects in addition to the increase in bifidus-type flora:

  • Adaptation of the colonic flora determined by the increase in certain enzymatic activities of the fructooligohydrolase type in faeces.
  • Decrease in C. perfringens in the intestinal microflora and a decrease in the by-products of putrefaction in urine and stools.
  • Reduction in toxic metabolites and undesirable enzymes: the ingestion of from 3 to 6 g/day reduces the production of toxic intestinal compounds and undesirable enzymes by 44.6% and 40.9%, respectively.
  • Prevention of pathogenic and autogenic diarrhea: the mechanisms regulating this process are those which reduce harmful bacteria. The fact that children receiving human milk are more health than those receiving made-up milk is associated with the greater presence of bifidogenic bacteria in their intestinal flora.
  • Increase in absorption of different minerals in the intestine: the decrease in intestinal pH promotes the absorption of certain minerals such as iron and calcium. Whether or not similar effects can be achieved by the addition of FOS and GOS to infant products remains to be elucidated.
  • Prevention of constipation: the production of short chain fatty acids by bifidobacteria stimulates intestinal peristalsis and increases the humidity of the faecal bolus through osmotic pressure.
  • Reduction in serum cholesterol: changes in the concentration of serum cholesterol have been related with changes in intestinal microflora. Some strains of Lactobacillus acidophillus assimilate the cholesterol present in the medium, while others appear to inhibit the absorption of cholesterol micellae through the intestinal wall.
  • Reduction in blood pressure: there appears to be a negative correlation between diastolic blood pressure and the percentage of bifidogenic bacteria in the total colon bacteria count.
  • Anticarcinogenic effect: the anticarcinogenic effect appears to be related to an increase in cellular immunity, the components of the cellular wall and the extra-cellular components of bifidobacteria.
  • Nutrient production: bifidobacteria produce vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12, nicotinic acid and folic acid.

In 1991, the Japanese Government included fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and galactooligosaccharides (GOS) among “foods for special medical uses”. Due to the great number of beneficial properties attributed to the oligosaccharides in the first months of life, some infant food companies have included them, FOS and GOS, in the composition of their products in an attempt to emulate the beneficial action of complex carbohydrates in human breast milk.

The beneficial effects of consuming oligosaccharides, such as fructooligosaccharides and galactooligosaccharides, both for nursing children and during other stages of life, have demonstrated their safety and efficacy.

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