Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) and Other Oligosaccharides
The term “oligosaccharide” refers to a short chain of sugar molecules (“oligo” means “few” and “saccharide” means “sugar.”) Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) and inulin, which are found in many vegetables, consist of short chains of fructose molecules. Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), which also occur naturally, consist of short chains of galactose molecules. These compounds can be only partially digested by humans.1, 2, 3, 4 When oligosaccharides are consumed, the undigested portion serves as food for “friendly” bacteria, such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus species.
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For over a decade, our team has combed through thousands of research articles published in reputable journals. To help you make educated decisions, and to better understand controversial or confusing supplements, our medical experts have digested the science into these three easy-to-follow ratings. We hope this provides you with a helpful resource to make informed decisions towards your health and well-being.
3 StarsReliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2 StarsContradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1 StarFor an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.
This supplement has been used in connection with the following health conditions:
90% galacto-oligosaccharides and 10% fructo-oligosaccharides mixture added daily to infant formula
In one study, adding a mixture of 90% galacto-oligosaccharides and 10% fructo-oligosaccharides to infant formula prevented the development of eczema in babies who were at high risk of developing eczema.
In a double-blind trial, the addition of a mixture of 90% galacto-oligosaccharides and 10% to infant formula prevented the development of eczema in infants who were at high risk of developing eczema. The incidence of eczema in the first six months of life was 9.8% in the group receiving oligosaccharides, compared with 23.1% in the placebo group, a statistically significant difference. The product used in this study was designed to mimic the oligosaccharide content of human milk, and was added at a concentration of 0.8 grams per 100 ml.
8 to 20 grams daily
Several trials have shown that FOS supplementation lowers triglycerides in people with elevated levels.
Several double-blind trials have evaluated the efficacy of (FOS) or inulin (a related compound) for lowering blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. These trials have shown that in individuals with elevated total cholesterol or triglyceride levels, including people with type 2 diabetes, FOS or inulin (in amounts ranging from 8 to 20 grams daily) produced significant reductions in triglyceride levels; however, the effect on cholesterol levels was inconsistent. In people with normal or low cholesterol or triglyceride levels, FOS or inulin produced little effect.
Indigestion, Heartburn, and Low Stomach Acidity
5 grams per day
Supplementing with fructo-oligosaccharides may help relieve abdominal discomfort, fullness, constipation, urgency, and diarrhea.
In a double-blind trial, supplementation with 5 grams of fructo-oligosaccharides per day for six weeks was significantly more effective than a placebo at relieving symptoms of dyspepsia such as such as abdominal discomfort, fullness, constipation, urgency, and diarrhea. The average symptom severity decreased by 44% in the group receiving fructo-oligosaccharides.
Pre- and Post-Surgery Health
Refer to label instructions
Supplementing with fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) appears to improve iron absorption and restore iron levels, which may be reduced after surgery.
One preliminary study found iron levels to be reduced after both minor and major surgeries, and iron supplementation prior to surgery was not able to prevent this reduction. A controlled trial found that intravenous iron was more effective than oral iron for restoring normal iron levels after spinal surgery in children. One animal study reported that supplementation with (FOS) improved the absorption of iron and prevented anemia after surgery, but no human trials have been done to confirm this finding. Some researchers speculate that iron deficiency after a trauma such as surgery is an important mechanism for avoiding infection, and they suggest that iron supplements should not be given after surgery.
Type 2 Diabetes
10 to 20 grams (about 2 to 4 teaspoons) daily
Fructo-oligosaccharides improve metabolic healthy by supporting growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Supplementing with fructo-oligosaccharides may improve blood glucose and lipid levels.
The gut microbiome is now recognized as an important target for anti-diabetes therapies, with its ability to impact carbohydrate and fat metabolism and regulate inflammatory activity in the body. Prebiotic fibers like fructo-oligosaccharides promote the growth of gut bacterial colonies associated with healthy metabolic function. A review of 27 clinical trials investigating the effects of prebiotics in people with type 2 diabetes reported the majority (74%) of studies found beneficial results on metabolic and/or inflammatory markers, including blood glucose and lipid levels. The best evidence was for fructo-oligosaccharides, with fewer trials performed using other prebiotics. A meta-analysis that included six randomized controlled trials using prebiotics in people with type 2 diabetes found there was a significant positive effect on fasting blood glucose levels, HbA1c, and lipid profiles. Prebiotic supplements used in the research provided 10–20 grams of fructo-oligosaccharides per day.
How It Works
How to Use It
The average daily intake of oligosaccharides by people in the United States is estimated to be about 800 to 1,000 mg. For the promotion of healthy bacterial flora, the usual recommendation for FOS, GOS, or inulin is 2,000 to 3,000 mg per day with meals. In the studies on diabetes and high blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides), amounts ranged from 8 to 20 grams per day.
Where to Find It
FOS and inulin are found naturally in Jerusalem artichoke, burdock, chicory, leeks, onions, and asparagus. FOS products derived from chicory root contain significant quantities of inulin,5 a fiber widely distributed in fruits, vegetables and plants, which is classified as a food ingredient (not as an additive) and is considered to be safe to eat.6 In fact, inulin is a significant part of the daily diet of most of the world’s population.7 FOS can also be synthesized by enzymes of the fungus Apergillus niger acting on sucrose. GOS is naturally found in soybeans and can be synthesized from lactose (milk sugar). FOS, GOS, and inulin are available as nutritional supplements in capsules, tablets, and as a powder.
As FOS, GOS, and inulin are not essential nutrients, no deficiency state exists.
Interactions with Supplements, Foods, & Other Compounds
Interactions with Medicines
Generally, oligosaccharides are well tolerated. Some people reported increased flatulence in some of the studies. At higher levels of intake, that is, in excess of 40 grams per day, FOS and the other oligosaccharides may induce diarrhea.
There is a report of a 39-year old man having a life-threatening allergic reaction after consuming high amounts of inulin from multiple sources, including FOS.8Allergy to inulin in this person was confirmed by laboratory tests. Such sensitivities are extremely rare. People with a confirmed sensitivity to inulin should probably avoid FOS.
1. Molis C, Flourie B, Ouarne F, et al. Digestion, excretion, and energy value of fructooligosaccharides in healthy humans. Am J Clin Nutr 1996;64:324-8.
2. van Dokkum W, Wezendonk B, Srikumar TS, van den Heuvel EG. Effect of nondigestible oligosaccharides on large-bowel functions, blood lipid concentrations and glucose absorption in young healthy male subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr 1999;53:1-7.
3. Alles MS, Hautvast JGA, Nagengast FM, et al. Fate of fructo-oligosaccharides in the human intestine. Br J Nutr 1996;76:211-21.
4. Roberfroid M. Dietary fibre, inulin and oligofructose. A review comparing their physiological effects. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 1993;33:103-48 [review].
5. Duke, JA. Handbook of Phytochemical Constituents of GRAS Herbs and Other Economic Plants. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1992.
6. Carabin IG, Flamm WG. Evaluation of safety of inulin and oligofructose as dietary fiber. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol 1999;30:268-82 [review].
7. Coussement PA. Inulin and oligofructose: safe intakes and legal status. J Nutr 1999;129:1412S-7S [review].
8. Gay-Crosier F, Schreiber G, Hauser C. Anaphylaxis from inulin in vegetables and processed food. N Engl J Med 2000;342:1372 [letter].
Last Review: 06-05-2015
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The information presented by TraceGains is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires December 2023.