“The main results were that the number of bowel movements increased by more than 80%, with at least one stool per day from 15 days onwards, without a laxative effect for the group treated,” the team of Mexican university researchers wrote. “Finally, the quality of life with the prebiotic jelly was significantly improved compared to the placebo in all specific domains, in addition to significantly reducing anxiety and depression.”
The study, published in the journal Nutrients, was funded through research grants from the non-profit Fundación MAPFRE, Mexico’s National Polytechnic Institute and the Morelense Institute for financing the productive sector.
Agave fructans and gut health
Agave fructan extracts – as soluble dietary fiber with prebiotic effects – have been shown to boost the diversity of intestinal microbiota and the production of short chain fatty acids to normalize the Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio in the gut.
Other benefits noted in a 2020 review: promotion of the growth of healthy bacteria (like bifidobacteria and lactobacilli), regulation of blood glucose, reduction of obesity-related issues, promotion of calcium absorption, and chemoprotective, immunomodulatory and antioxidant effects.
There are currently several agave fructan ingredients on the market including Bustar Alimentos' Predilife (constipation relief and healthy microbiota), The Tierra Group's Fiber-Blu Agave Inulin (gut function and calcium absorption) and Nubeleaf's Organic Agave Inulin (mineral absorption and healthy digestion). For this study, the researchers used an extract of Agave angustifolia (Caribbean agave) sourced from the State of Morelos and incorporated as fiber ingredient in hydrated jelly product Gelyfun gastro from Mexican firm Alimentos Bea.
The randomized, double-blind trial assigned 50 patients diagnosed with IBS to one of two study groups: one supplemented with a standardized portion of 130 g per day of Gelyfun gastro (7.8 g of agave fructans) and another with a placebo jelly for four weeks. Quality-of-life and anxiety-depression questionnaires, physical exams, and frequency and appearance of bowel movements were used to evaluate the amelioration of the condition.
“This study is the first report that assesses the short-term effects of agave fructans administration on the clinical symptoms of IBS-C,” the researchers wrote. “Through the ingestion of almost eight grams of agave fructans in a functional food (prebiotic jelly) for a period of 15 days, the frequency of fecal evacuation increased to 12 per week, the Bristol scale was regularized to type 4, and patients’ anxiety and depression levels were modified with respect to the baseline values in both evaluated groups.”
They attributed the improvements to the type of prebiotic used, the use of an efficacious dose within the tolerability limit, a minimum 15-day treatment period and the delivery of agave fructans as functional food.
The functional food effect
The study highlighted the functional food delivery format, noting that most clinical protocols in humans to date have administered agave fructans as powder, capsule or tablet, with no significant evidence of improvement of IBS-C symptoms.
“This research additionally postulates that functional prebiotic fiber should be consumed in conditions similar to those found naturally in food (hydrated fibers) in order to be named ‘functional’,” the researchers wrote. “In this sense, using less than 5 g of prebiotic fiber provides an increase in dietary fiber in the diet that does not have a physiological effect, while using more than 15 g can have a laxative effect due to excess or non-tolerability to this type of fiber. Using the correct amount has advantages for obtaining SCFA of the type and amounts that are conducive to regularizing intestinal function in a continuous minimum period of 15 days.”
As such, they suggested a review of the definition of “functional” established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, which states that “functional fiber consists of isolated, nondigestible carbohydrates that have beneficial physiological effects in humans”.
“The Effects of Agave Fructans in a Functional Food Consumed by Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome with Constipation: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial”
Authors: Brenda Hideliza Camacho-Diaz et al.