Inulin is a fibrous carbohydrate which belongs to a class of starch called fructans. It cannot be broken down by digestive enzymes, thus is degraded in the large intestine by the host bacteria and is thus considered as a prebiotic. Prebiotics are indigestible and they help nourish the ‘good’ bacteria in the colon thus improving bowel function and general health. Inulin decreases the body’s ability to make certain kinds of fats and is also converted into short-chain fatty acids that nourish colon cells and produce more appetite-controlling hormones in the body.
Inulin is found in various foods such as:
- Sweet potatoes
- Wild yams
- Chicory root
Inulin is soluble, and is often prescribed by integrative medicine doctors and practitioners of Complementary and Alternative Medicine for certain ailments as it slows digestion, increases fullness or satiety, and can remove cholesterol as it passes through the digestive tract. These ailments include:
- Heart Health: as they have been shown to reduce total serum cholesterol and triglycerides
- Weight loss – sometimes prescribed as it increase satiety
- Type 2 diabetes – possibly improves glycemic control
- Bone Health – improves absorption of calcium and magnesium
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease – may help reduce symptoms of ulcerative colitis
- Constipation – increases bowel movements and improves stool consistency
Inulin for Asthmatics
Researchers at Newcastle University, Australia carried out a small-scale Complementary and Alternative Medicine research study where the asthmatic trial participants received daily supplements of inulin. This had a positive effect on asthma control and reduced airway inflammation in these patients.
This is potentially good news for asthma sufferers who are overweight or obese as they tend to find difficulty in controlling their symptoms with the standard inhalers/puffers. Professor Peter Gibson, president of Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand commented, “This is the first time anyone has looked at the impact of altering the gut microbiome on asthma control in humans. We’re at the tip of a new paradigm for how diet can be used to treat asthma.”
Word of caution
Even though further studies are required to determine the use of inulin in asthma therapy, it is recommended that asthma patients include fibre-rich foods in their diet. If you are considering inulin nutritional supplements, then it is important to seek advice from an integrative medicine doctor or proficient practitioner as Complementary and Alternative Medicine as inulin not only feeds beneficial bacteria but may also facilitate the growth of other bacteria such as Klebsieilla which has been implicated in ankylosing spondylitis and leaky gut.