Galacto-oligosaccharides and bowel function
Constipation is a common problem and its prevalence increases with age. Severe constipation requires
treatment with laxatives, but nutritional therapy, especially increased dietary fibre intake, is recommended
primarily for the prevention and treatment of mild constipation. One alternative may be the use of
oligosaccharides, which act as soluble fibre and have a bifidogenic effect. Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS)
resembling oligosaccharides occurring naturally in human milk can be produced from lactose. Several clinical
studies reviewed in this paper have shown that the use of GOS (5-15 g per day) may relieve the symptoms of
constipation in adults and elderly people. In infants, the supplementation of formula with a mixture of GOS
and fructo-oligosaccharides can modulate bowel function and stool characters in the same direction as does
breast-feeding. Gastrointestinal symptoms may occur as side-effects of oligosaccharides, but 12 g GOS per
day or less is usually well tolerated.
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