Probiotics such as lactobacillus and bifidobacteria species have been shown to benefit numerous intestinal disorders. Prebiotics, such as fiber and indigestible dietary starches, promote the growth and activity of specific species of bacteria in the gut. In animal models, ingestion of lactic acid bacteria was shown to prevent carcinogen-induced pre-neoplastic lesions and tumors.53 Additionally, prebiotic intake in humans has been shown to increase probiotic bacteria, decrease pathogenic bacteria, decrease the activity of pro-carcinogenic enzymes, and increase the amount of beneficial short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs).54 As mentioned previously, increased production of short-chain fatty acids leads to a decrease in the pH of colon content, which is associated with a reduced incidence of colon cancer.55 Using colon-cancer-prone mice, researchers have shown that a diet high in the prebiotic short-chain fructo-oligosaccharides dramatically reduced the incidence of colon tumors in this model.56
The SCFAs have numerous functions in the intestines. SCFAs are readily absorbed by the intestinal mucosa and have been shown to stimulate intestinal mucosal growth. Particularly, butyrate is the major energy source for the cells that line the colon. Butyrate has been shown to induce enzymes promoting mucosal cell restoration. SCFAs also stimulate sodium and water absorption in the colon.57 In addition, SCFAs enhance the motility of the intestinal tract by stimulating contractions and shortening emptying of the ileum, which may protect ileal mucosa against the potentially harmful effects of the reflux of colonic contents.58 Also, the secretion of mucus, an important part of the intestinal mucosal barrier, has been shown to be stimulated by SCFAs, especially butyrate, in the colon.59 Butyrate, propionate, and acetate inhibited the proliferation and migration and increased the differentiation of a human colon cancer cell line in studies.60 Particularly, butyrate has been investigated for its inhibition of pro-inflammatory markers and the role this plays in prevention of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and cancer.61 Butyrate has also been studied in the prevention of colon cancer, by promoting cell differentiation, cell-cycle arrest, and apoptosis (programmed cell death) of transformed colon cells. In fact, butyrate has been shown to decrease experimentally induced DNA damage in human colon cells and colon cancer cell lines by approximately 50%.62
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