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Inulin is, as you know, a flexible oligosaccharide. But there’s more going on than just oligosac… oligosaccharif….more going on than just that. Inulin is a soluble plant fiber, present in notably large and accessible quantities in the chicory root (particularly), but in some 36,000 other plant species, too. So inulin is not famous for its rarity.
In fact, inulin has been in fairly common commercial use since 2003 when the FDA approved it as an ingredient to boost the dietary fiber content of manufactured foods. So it’s been around. The thing is, inulin is recently becoming better-known for the weird breadth of its unexpected talents.
Inulin: Super Fiber as Prebiotic
Inulin is an odd bird. It performs magnificently as a super-fiber, improving digestion, smoothly directing traffic through the bowel (if I may say so), and contributing to heart health by controlling the LDL cholesterol that is so prone to sticking to arterial walls and bringing us to our knees.
But inulin has been found to be a champion prebiotic, as well—plant matter that is exactingly converted by the human colon (if I may go there again) into short-chain sugars – food for our bacterial colonies down there. What exactly is a prebiotic, and why does this element add such power to inulin's resume?
Inulin in its wild form has been utilized as a generalized health benefit for centuries by practitioners of traditional medicine. The prebiotic classification only entered the western medicinal canon in 1995, where initially a prebiotic was defined as a “non-digestible food ingredient that beneficially affects the host by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of one or a limited number of bacteria already resident in the colon”1
By 2004 the prebiotics definition was amended to “ingredients that allow specific changes, both in the composition and/or activity in the gastrointestinal microflora that confers benefits upon host's well-being and health”; a revision that reflects the proactive health effects discovered to be connected to a robust microbiome.
The City that (You Hope) Never Sleeps
Sinatra never sang about the large intestine—not that we know of. But like NYC, your gut is a crowded microbial metropolis whose tiny and pugnacious citizens exist quite contentedly down there. Rents are low, traffic is more or less orderly, and when ne’er-do-wells show up to bring disease and disorder, our bacterial buddies swarm and conquer.
Anti-Inflammatory. Appetite Modulating. Calcium-Bearing. Inulin.
This is where inulin comes in (ulin). Yeah, the smock-and-beaker community is taking serious notice of inulin’s many healing properties, crowding labs with researchers anxious to leverage the new micro-heroism this once-familiar natural fiber has been found to possess.
Inulin’s ability to feed the troops down there—even while carpeting the environs with helpful digestive fiber—makes it the foodstuff of your colonic dreams. Not to suggest you have colonic dreams.
Add to that the weight-managing, the appetite suppression, the calcium party it brings to your bones, the anti-inflammatory swagger; inulin is a soluble fiber with several more helpful tricks up its sleeve — if it had sleeves.
The only real hitch ... and I hesitate to mention it ... is the layout. I mean, the large intestine sort of classily frames the whole contraption. The small intestine, on the other hand, looks like it was jammed into the thorax the way someone hurriedly throws socks into a two-dollar suitcase. But who you gonna complain to, right?
Inulin in the Throne Room
To sum up; besides managing all these other aspects of your health and well-being, inulin expertly does the unglamorous but much-appreciated work of efficiently moving waste through your subway system.