What Is Inulin And Why Do You Need It?
First things first: the title you just read says ‘what is inulin…’ NOT ‘what is insulin…’!
Please do not confuse the two. The supplement we are talking about here is inulin. You definitely do NOT want to supplement with insulin, unless you are a diabetic!
Most people are aware that inside a healthy human gut there should be beneficial bacteria that assist the digestive process. But when I ask them if they’ve heard of inulin, I am usually met with a blank stare back.
Just like all living organisms, your gut bacteria need food to survive and prosper. Think of inulin as this food, nourishing your beneficial bacteria (or ‘probiotics’) so it can continue to deliver its many health benefits.
Consider for a moment a paddock of cows. You can’t keep adding more cows to the group and expect them to thrive (and survive!) if there isn’t enough grass to feed them!
The same principle applies to your gut bacteria. Supplying them with enough food - or prebiotics - may be even more important than simply adding more probiotics in.
The problem is that people generally do not get enough high quality fiber in their diets to keep the probiotics happy.
While prebiotic fiber is found in many common foods such as asparagus, leeks, onions, garlic, bananas and chicory root, many people find that they need to supplement in order to achieve optimal gut health.
What Is Inulin Exactly?
You know basically what it does and where you can find it – but what is inulin exactly?
Well, essentially inulin is a plant storage carbohydrate made of fructose polymers.
Humans don’t actually digest it. Rather, inulin travels intact through the gut to the large intestine, where, as mentioned, colonies of bacteria use it for fuel.
In supplement form, inulin has recently been harnessed by the health industry as a prebiotic fiber to feed these beneficial microorganisms. It is usually made from chicory root or Jerusalem artichoke.
What Is Inulin’s Main Benefit?
The main benefit of supplementation with inulin lies in providing the fuel required for the gut bacteria to do their job of helping to maintain good digestive health.
Studies demonstrate that inulin may alleviate constipation and reduce symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.
The problem faced by some people who take fiber supplements is that it can become ‘bulky’ in the body or hold excess water in the intestines.
By supplementing with inulin, you avoid these drawbacks of other supplements. It is gentle on sensitive digestive systems, making it easy to administer and an ideal supplemental fiber source for most people.
Another benefit of inulin is that it is neutral in taste and color, making it a convenient addition to your supplement plan.
Of course, digestive health is also critical to our overall health. In fact, there appears to be more scientific evidence presented daily about the role of probiotics in general human health…
What Else Is Inulin Used For?
Gut bacteria appears to have a strong bearing not only on digestive function but on everything from weight maintenance to the risk of chronic disease.
The benefits of inulin certainly center around its key role as a prebiotic in nourishing the probiotics. However, they may extend beyond the gut to positive effects on the blood, on diabetes prevention, on weight loss, and on osteoporosis – more about this below.
→ Lowering cholesterol
Like most fiber sources, inulin may act as a cholesterol-lowering agent because of its positive effect on blood lipids. Studies show that it may hold promise in benefiting cardiovascular health, appearing to block the synthesis of triglycerides and fatty acids in the liver.
→ Lowering the risk of diabetes
A recent study shows the role of inulin in regulating blood sugar levels, supporting healthy hunger signaling and playing a role in carbohydrate metabolism. This may be an important aid in lowering the risk of diabetes.
The ability of inulin to regulate insulin levels has also been claimed, but requires further research.
→ Assisting in weight loss
As already indicated, inulin may decrease hunger signaling. This is due to its effect on hormones such as ghrelin. It may also help regulate blood glucose levels and carbohydrate metabolism, possibly providing benefits to those trying to lose weight.
→ Decreasing the risk of osteoporosis
An interesting side benefit of inulin is that it can help to increase mineral absorption. By increasing the absorption of calcium and other bone-strengthening minerals, it may reduce the risk of osteoporosis
We should note that this ability of inulin to increase mineral absorption is a rather unique benefit for a fiber supplement. Most authorities warn against excess fiber supplementation due to the fact that some fibers bind to minerals and reduce their absorption.
This is an important reason inulin is included in Athletic Greens – in addition to all the other stated benefits, of course.
Finally, it’s worth noting here that the benefits of inulin may extend even further. There are some suggestions that inulin reduces the risk of colon and breast cancer, and that it helps support the immune system. However, these claims require further scientific research.
What Is Inulin’s Recommended Dose?
The recommended starting dose for inulin is between 2-3 grams per day for one to two weeks. After that, the dose can be gradually increased.
Insulin supplements should be avoided by those who are intolerant to FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols).
FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates that can prove difficult for some people to digest. Inulin, which is classed as a fructan, may cause gastrointestinal pain, gas, bloating and diarrhea in susceptible individuals.
Who Should Supplement With Inulin?
The properties of inulin and its benefits for the health of the human gut and the digestive system are well-documented.
Many studies agree that inulin promotes the growth of healthy populations of bifidobacteria in the human gut. These unleash an array of benefits to health that extend beyond the digestive system to other areas, such as cardiovascular benefits, weight loss, diabetes prevention, metabolic support, and more.
Those who are not getting enough high quality fiber through dietary sources will find that the inulin content in Athletic Greens is a safe and effective way to supplement. This includes almost everyone (since most people do not eat enough fiber), except those who are intolerant to FODMAPs.
Note that inulin is a superior form of fiber to psyllium husk, which is used in many popular brands of fiber supplement. This is a very coarse, thirsty fibre which can often lead to dehydration, bloating and in some extreme cases, blockages in the digestive system that have to be surgically removed.
Within Athletic Greens, inulin works well alongside the probiotics lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, as it provides the ‘food’ by which these beneficial bacteria can multiply.
Note that you will need to give this supplement time to start working – the beneficial changes will not happen overnight. The longer you stick with it, the more benefits you’ll experience!