Help Improve Your Digestion With Inulin

healthy digestion

Story at-a-glance -

  • Inulin is a prebiotic fiber that may help support digestive, skeletal and cardiovascular health. Not only is it extremely beneficial, but it also is relatively easy to acquire
  • Aside from being a supplement, inulin is marketed as a calorie-free sweetener because of its naturally sweet taste

Inulin is one of the most recent supplements to take center stage in the medical world as more and more scientific studies are focusing on its various effects on the human body. Inulin is present in almost 36,000 vegetables and other plant-based products, which makes it extremely easy for you to access through what you eat.1

Continue reading this article to know more about this healthy fiber and why you should consider adding it to your diet.

What Is Inulin?

Inulin is a soluble prebiotic fiber that helps improve gut health by nourishing your gut bacteria. Inulin fiber primarily works by freely passing through the upper digestive tract and making its way to the large intestine for fermentation, improving the microflora present.2

Inulin belongs to the carbohydrate category of fructans, which are carbohydrates found in various foods, including bananas, onions and leeks. These foods usually boast high amounts of fiber, which positively influence your diet and metabolism. Because of this specific function, many food manufacturers now use fructans to boost the fiber content and nutrient levels of their products.3,4

Aside from being a supplement, inulin is marketed as a calorie-free sweetener because of its naturally sweet taste. Inulin may not boast of the strong flavor of sugar and other natural sweeteners, but it still functions as a safer and healthier alternative to artificial sweeteners.5

Get Your Fair Share of Inulin From These Foods

While inulin supplements are now taking the world by storm, it is especially worthwhile to know that you don’t need supplements to start benefiting from inulin. Inulin is actually present in a variety of vegetables, some of which may already be part of your daily diet. Some of the most common sources of inulin include:6

Onions

Garlic

Artichokes (Jerusalem)7

Leeks

Chicory root

Banana

Asparagus8

Jicama root9

Aside from the presence of inulin, you will also benefit from the countless vitamins and minerals these fruits and vegetables contain, further improving your health.

What Health Benefits Can You Get From Inulin?

Inulin may offer numerous health benefits by indirectly assisting in the maintenance of many body systems. Adding inulin-rich foods into your diet may help improve your:

Cardiovascular system — Inulin may help regulate triglyceride and cholesterol levels in the blood, increase the production of enzymes responsible for fat breakdown and decrease liver enzymes that facilitate fat production. Optimizing your inulin may decrease your risk of high blood pressure and other problems that may arise from poorly regulated levels.10

Digestive system — Inulin may support your digestive system by balancing your gut microflora, boosting digestion and bulking up your stools. A 2017 study showed that inulin supplementation may increase bowel movement frequency and improve stool consistency.11

Inulin may help abate inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) symptoms and decrease the inflammatory markers in Crohn's disease. What's more, inulin may help reduce your risk of colon cancer by supporting a gut environment that is less favorable for tumor growth, and decreasing chronic inflammation in the gut.12

Skeletal system — Inulin may promote better calcium and magnesium absorption by producing short-chain fatty acids, which increase the solubility of these minerals. Increased magnesium and calcium may improve bone strength and density, slowing down bone degeneration and giving your body adequate support.13

In addition, inulin may aid in weight loss by curbing cravings and promoting satiety because of its filling and hunger-suppressing capabilities. Inulin also has a low glycemic index. It can help lessen blood sugar spikes throughout the day, which may be extremely beneficial for obese and diabetic patients.14

Scientific Studies About Inulin and Its Potential Benefits

Research about inulin is increasing as people start to pay attention to its many possible health benefits. Studies are now delving into its potential to protect against certain diseases, including cancer, diabetes and intestinal infections.

Colorectal cancer has been linked to a number of bacterial colonies that produce carcinogens, which then promote the growth of tumors. In a 2013 study,15 inulin was found to successfully increase Lactobacillus levels, which are especially beneficial to the human body, and decrease coliform count, a form of bacteria that may be a contributing factor to the development of cancer cells.

In a study done in 2013, diabetic women were given an inulin supplement and maltodextrin for eight weeks. The group given inulin showed decreased fasting blood sugar, total cholesterol, triglyceride and low-density lipoprotein. This shows that inulin supplementation may help diabetes patients by reducing their risk of complications.16

Studies have also been conducted on inulin’s effect on Crohn’s disease. It helps alleviate the symptoms by easing inflammation in the gut and reducing the intestinal lesions caused by Crohn’s. However, more studies are required for them to be conclusive.17

Furthermore, prebiotic-rich foods may help improve sleep by altering the sleep-wake cycle. In an animal study, researchers found that a prebiotic-rich diet may support brain health by promoting restful and restorative non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep.18

Watch Out for These Inulin Side Effects

Inulin may look like a good idea for most people, especially those who don’t eat a lot of fiber. However, you should note that inulin may cause numerous side effects, especially when taken in excess. Its strong effect on the digestive system may cause some uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing side effects, which include:19

Flatulence

Bloating

Abdominal pain

Diarrhea

There is also a condition called fructan intolerance, wherein a person may be sensitive to inulin and oligofructose. This primarily happens when people lack a specific enzyme that stops them from breaking down these compounds. This condition actually shares the same symptoms as an inulin overdose, which may make diagnosis doubly challenging for people. If you notice some discomfort after eating foods that contain inulin, consider getting tested for this condition.20

Help Support Your Gut Health With Inulin

There’s no question that inulin is at the forefront in the increasing awareness of the importance of gut health. Not only is it extremely useful, but it is also natural and relatively safe. But even though inulin offers some impressive benefits, take note that it is not a magic bullet for all of your health problems. Remember that optimizing your nutrition and activity levels go hand in hand in achieving peak health.

Frequently Asked Questions About Inulin

Q: Does inulin cause gas?

A: In some cases, inulin may cause abdominal problems. This is due to the fermentation process that takes place when inulin makes its way to the large intestine. The bacterial fermentation may produce gas, leading to flatulence, bloating and stomach discomfort.21

Q: Is inulin bad for you?

A: While inulin may cause a few side effects for some people, especially those who have fructan sensitivities, its numerous health benefits still stand out. Inulin is especially beneficial for managing digestive problems, constipation and even improving a variety of body processes.22

Q: Is inulin gluten-free?

A: Yes, inulin is gluten-free. However, take note people who have a fructan sensitivity may still feel some form of abdominal discomfort.23

Q: What is inulin used for?

A: Inulin is typically used to aid digestion and promote healthy gut microflora. It may help support cardiovascular and skeletal health by altering mineral absorption and metabolism as well.24,25,26

Q: Where does inulin come from?

A: Inulin is found in different vegetables and fruits, including bananas, artichokes, asparagus and onions. Inulin supplements are also available, which are usually produced from chicory roots.

Q: Is inulin safe?

A: Inulin is safe for ingestion and may even offer numerous health benefits. However, take note that it may cause a handful of side effects if taken in excess. It would be best to make sure that you do not have a fructan sensitivity prior to taking an inulin supplement.27