Jenifer Fenton of Michigan State University and colleagues said prebiotics could stimulate the growth of the "good" bacteria in the intestine, which might help the body's own natural killer cells fight bacterial infection and reduce inflammation and decreasing the risk of colon cancer.
The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, found the severity of colitis -- one of the main forms of inflammatory bowel disease -- was significantly reduced in mice given the prebiotic galacto-oligosaccharide.
The mice fed galacto-oligosaccharide -- a synthetic compound that is known to stimulate beneficial bacteria and is found in foods such as biscuits and infant formula -- had a 50 percent reduction in colitis, Fenton said.
"There is something unique about certain types of fibers, such as galacto-oligosaccharide, and how they alter cells and influence the immune system to change disease risk, either for the good or bad," Fenton said in a statement. "Our overall goal is to identify either dietary patterns or diet components to reduce inflammation and cancer "
The findings were published in the Journal of Nutrition.