Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids Prebiotic Ingredients?


Data published in Gut Microbes showed that a six-week supplementation with 500 mg omega-3 (which provides 165 mg EPA and 110 mg DHA) resulted in a significant increase in Coprococcus spp. and Bacteroides spp, while Collinsella spp.

“In this study, we report small, consistent changes in the human gut microbiome associated with a 6-week supplementation with 500 mg omega-3 FA and compare them with changes observed with inulin fiber supplementation over the same period of time . ”Wrote the researchers.

“After a 6 week intervention with omega-3 supplementation, there were significant changes in levels of bacterial fermentation products and the overall effect was comparable to that of inulin fiber supplementation, supporting the role of omega-3 as a potential prebiotic.”


The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) updated the definition of “prebiotics” in 2017 as follows: “A substrate that is selectively used by host microorganisms and has a health benefit” (Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology)

The ISAPP experts discussed what kind of compounds could be considered prebiotics, with the currently established prebiotics being based on carbohydrates (inulin, FOS, GOS, XOS, etc.). However, substances such as polyphenols, conjugated fatty acids derived from polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), and human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) can also be considered as candidates for prebiotics if supported by appropriate science.

The lead author of the 2017 ISAPP Expert Consensus was Glenn Gibson, Professor of Food Microbiology and Head of Food Microbial Science at the University of Reading in the UK. Prof. Gibson originally coined the term prebiotic in 1995 with Marcel Roberfroid. Commenting on the new paper, Prof. Gibson told NutraIngredients-USA: “This is a very well done and reported study carried out by a highly regarded research group.

“The ISAPP prebiotic consensus a few years ago stated that new versions are needed that are not necessarily limited to indigestible oligosaccharides and that target microbes other than the traditional bifidobacteria and lactobacilli should be included in the concept. It is therefore to be seen very positively that both are achieved here.

“It is important that the authors backed up their important observations in a human study that also examined health biomarkers. This type of study makes an important contribution in the field and helps us develop the prebiotic concept. “

Study details

The London-based researchers enrolled 69 people from the TwinsUK registry and were randomly given either omega-3 supplements (500 mg per day) or inulin supplements (20 grams per day) for six weeks.

The results showed that inulin supplementation, as expected, led to a large increase in Bifidobacterium and Lachnospiraceae. However, the omega-3 group showed a significant increase in Coprococcus spp. and Bacteroides spp. A 2018 study by Watson et al. (Gut; Vol. 67, No. 11, pp. 1974-1983) found similar increases for Coprococcus spp. with a dose of 4 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day. Watson et al. also reported that the incidence of Bifidobacterium increased, but this was not seen in the study, which may suggest a dose-dependent effect.

A negative association was found between Coprococcus and triglyceride-rich lipoproteins, including VLDL and VLDL-TG, the researchers said

“Current results suggest that the cardiovascular benefits of omega-3 supplementation may be mediated by the gut microbiome, but this requires further investigation along with the potential differences in health effects of coprococci in overweight and non-obese individuals,” they said.

Significant decreases in the abundance of the genus Collinsella were also noted by the research team. It has been reported that this genus is increased threefold in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver.

“Given that NAFLD is known as a risk factor for both insulin resistance and cardiometabolic disease, it suggests an important potential microbiome path through which omega-3s are beneficial for health,” they said.

Similar results were observed between the omega-3 and inulin groups for increasing levels of short chain fatty acids (SFCAs) and branched chain fatty acids (BCFAs) such as butyrate, isovalerate and isobutyrate.

“Based on the current knowledge, we suspect that we can attribute the functional properties of a prebiotic to omega-3 fatty acids, as they not only have the potential to bring about small changes in the composition of the gut microbiome, but also the level of certain ones derived from the gut Increase metabolites such as BCFAs and SCFAs that have been shown to have positive effects on metabolic health, ”the researchers write.

“In addition, observational and clinical studies have largely demonstrated the potential human health benefits of prebiotics, and so the next steps to improve public health related to non-communicable diseases would be to test combinations of prebiotics for specific diseases aimed at. “

Source: Gut Microbes
Published online in advance, doi: 10.1080 / 19490976.2020.1863133
“The Prebiotic Effects of Dietary Supplementation with Omega-3 Fatty Acids: A Six-Week Randomized Interventional Study”
Authors: A. Vijay et al.


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