Can prebiotics help control Crohn's disease?

Answers from Michael F. Picco, M.D.

Prebiotics act as food for probiotics, a type of "good" bacteria. It's not known whether prebiotics can control symptoms of Crohn's disease.

Most bacteria are harmless. Others are either good or bad. Good bacteria help you digest your food and protect you from bad bacteria, which can make you sick or even kill you. Many digestive problems result from too many bad bacteria in the gut.

Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that can be found in foods such as honey and whole grains. Prebiotics are also available as dietary supplements. By helping restore the balance between good and bad bacteria, prebiotics protect against the presence of too many harmful bacteria in the gut.

A handful of human studies, each with a small number of participants, have investigated the effects of prebiotics on Crohn's disease. One study showed that prebiotics led to the production of more probiotics and significant improvements in factors such as abdominal pain and general well-being. However, another study failed to replicate these results and showed no benefit.

More research is needed before clear recommendations can be made regarding the use of prebiotics to help control the symptoms of Crohn's disease.

Aug. 13, 2014