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Adding inulin-type fructans, a kind of fructose molecule, could actually improve gut function, according to a new study published in the medical journal Gut. The fructans are classified as prebiotics, or ingredients that aren’t digestable, but help grow beneficial microorganisms within the gut. Let’s explore how prebiotics and metabolism are related…

Researchers from France and Belgium looked into how the endothelium, or the layer of cells that line blood vessels, dysfunctions and what it means for cardiovascular diseases. The study could help humans in the future, the authors wrote.

“[O]ur findings pave the way for innovative therapeutic approaches in prevention of human vascular dysfunction, for which no treatment has been successfully proposed so far,” the researchers said.

In a mouse model, the researchers observed mice with a diet that was depleted of omega-3s. The reduced omega-3s caused vascular dysfunction, where the blood vessels weren’t functioning properly.

The researchers then created two groups with the same diet, with one exception. One group had a diet that included inulin-type fructans, while the other did not.

The fructans were linked to higher numbers of bacteria that produced nitric oxide, which helps improve blood flow. In addition to the nitric oxide, there was a “replenishment” of a bacteria called Akkermansia, which has been associated with fighting obesity.

“We demonstrate for the first time that [inulin-type fructans] improve endothelial dysfunction, implicating a short-term adaptation of both gut microbiota and key gut peptides,” the researchers said. “If confirmed in humans, prebiotics could be proposed as a novel approach in the prevention of metabolic disorders-related cardiovascular diseases.”

The prebiotics decreased bacteria associated with bile acid production, as well as changed the way genes worked in the gut and liver. The researchers said that while mice and humans are obviously different, the study is an important step in helping to understand prebiotics and metabolism.

“There are certainly differences between humans and mice concerning the gut microbiota composition, but it is rather interesting to point out that similar bacterial changes occur in both humans and mice upon prebiotic intervention,” the researchers wrote.

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The study authors added that their data supports the concept that changing gut microbiota has an influence on intestinal functions that are involved with cardiometabolic health. The findings could lead to helping humans with managing health issues, the researchers said.

“If the positive impact of [inulin-type fructans] on endothelial dysfunction is confirmed in human studies, they could be proposed as a novel approach in the prevention and the management of metabolic disorders-related cardiovascular diseases,” the researchers wrote.

Glenn Gibson, professor of Food Microbiology and head of Food Microbial Sciences at the University of Reading in the U.K., said the study’s data is promising.

“As the authors acknowledge, these data need to be repeated in humans – which would be the definitive test of success,” said Gibson, who was not involved with the study. “However, the study holds much promise moving forward and the research is also driven by a mechanistic rather than observational, outlook.”