The study examined indigestible sugars from cranberry plant cell walls, called xyloglucans, and found that they do provide food for beneficial bifidobacteria, which break them down into other, potentially useful compounds. The finding could pave the way for a new cranberry-derived supplement or functional food product, but it is not yet clear what the effects on health could be.
Bifidobacteria are found to some degree in adults, but are most common in the gut of newborn, breastfed babies. Further research could look at how xyloglucans interact with other bacterial species and strains, the study’s authors said.
Ocean Spray supplied the purified xyloglucans and partly funded the study. A prebiotic from cranberry skins could be a lucrative use for a waste product for the cranberry juice manufacturer, if its health benefits can be defined.
The compound’s role in synbiotics — combinations of probiotics and prebiotics — may be an area of particular interest. Researchers suggested that formulations could combine xyloglucans with probiotics like lactobacillus and bifidobacteria. These strains are already widely used in probiotic products, including Yakult and various supplements. However, it is difficult to measure whether taking extra probiotics makes a difference to gut health, and their effect can vary from person to person. Prebiotics, on the other hand, can feed the beneficial bacteria that we know already exist in the gut, and help them to thrive.
There are trillions of bacteria in the human body — known collectively as the microbiome — that far outnumber other cells. It is thought that they have a significant impact on health. Although scientists are still unsure of how most of them function, emerging research has suggested a link between an individual’s unique microbiome and conditions including obesity, intestinal diseases and even cancer.
The main focus of research into products for improved gut health continues to be probiotics, but prebiotics are on the rise. Demand for prebiotic-containing products — such as health drinks, dairy, infant food, meat and bakery products — could drive the market to reach $7.8 billion by 2022, according to a Global Industry Analysts’ report. Meanwhile, the same firm predicts the probiotics market will exceed $63 billion that year.