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Acacia Gum: A low-glycemic index prebiotic fiber

Fiber is universally understood to play vital roles in our health and well-being, from regularity and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, to satiety and gut health. In fact, fiber intake is so important that the newest nutrient daily values have increased the recommended daily intake from 25g to 28g per day (based on a 2,000-calorie diet). Unfortunately, Americans are falling seriously short of that goal. According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the average fiber intake was 13.2 g/day for children/adolescents, and 16.1 g/day for adults.1

Clearly, Americans need more fiber—but what type of fiber?

There are several types, including lignin, cellulose, beta-glucans, hemicelluloses, pectin, gums, inulin and oligofructose and resistant starch. While increasing the intake of just about any of these would be good, this article will focus the value of one particular gum, acacia gum.

Introduction to acacia gum

Acacia gum (also known as gum arabic, arabic gum, gum acacia, acacia, Senegal gum and Indian gum4), is derived from the hardened sap of acacia tree species. It is a complex mixture of glycoproteins and polysaccharides, and is the original source of the sugars arabinose and ribose, from which both were first discovered, isolated and are named after. Acacia gum is derived from various Acacia species, mostly Sengalia senegal (aka, Acacia senegal)5 and Vachellia (Acacia) seyal.6 Regardless of the source, acacia gum offers some valuable benefits, including the ability to lower glycemic index and glucose levels.

Acacia gum lowers GI and glucose levels

Glycemic index (GI) is a numerical system of measuring how fast a food triggers a rise in circulating blood glucose—the higher the number, the greater the blood glucose response. So, a low GI food will cause a small rise, while a high GI food will trigger a dramatic spike. Consequently, consuming a diet with lower GI foods has two major benefits. One is that by keeping blood glucose levels more stable, there is less risk or impact for diabetes or prediabetes (metabolic syndrome). The other is that, to control appetite and lose weight, it is desirable to keep blood glucose levels as stable as possible, without ups and downs. In these situations, fiber is important since carbohydrate foods with more fiber are likely to have a lower GI. The fiber causes the food to break down more slowly in the digestive system and slows the absorption of any sugars it contains. The result is a slower increase in blood glucose levels. Essentially, if you add fiber to a food, it generally lowers the GI of that food. This is certainly the case with acacia gum.

For example, a glucose tolerance test was conducted in 12 healthy subjects. The addition of 20g acacia gum to 100g load of glucose resulted in a significant reduction of plasma glucose response (–18.6 percent) and serum insulin (–12.4 percent).7 In another study, 14 overweight or obese women suffering from type 2 diabetes consumed 50 g of available carbohydrate from white bread (100 g) as reference food, and seven days later the same reference product plus 15 g of acacia gum (as Fibregum from Nexira) dissolved in 180 mL of water. The addition of acacia gum to the diet allowed a significant GI reduction (–18.6 percent).8 Other research has shown similar benefits.9

Given its effect on GI, it’s not surprising that acacia gum has been shown to reduce blood glucose levels. This was shown in a study with 12 healthy males who consumed a sucrose loading (100 g) plus 0 (placebo), 5 or 10 g of acacia gum (as Fibregum from Nexira), consecutively in a random order, dissolved in 300 mL of water. Blood samples were taken from each subject before examination, and at intervals of 30 minutes during 150 minutes after supplementation. Results were that blood glucose concentration reached peak level 30 minutes after the supplementation with sucrose and acacia gum. Compared to the peak glucose level after taking the placebo (171 mg/dL), the level was significantly lowered after taking 5g or 10g acacia gum (153 and 146 mg/dL, respectively). That’s a percentage change of 11.1 percent 15.8 percent, respectively. Similarly, the glucose concentration at 60 minutes after supplementation was significantly decreased in test groups compared to placebo group.10

In another study,11 12 healthy non-smoking people (mean age=23.5, body mass index (BMI)=21.6 kg/m2) received four crispbreads (a flat and dry type of bread or cracker, containing mostly rye flour). One crispbread contained 50 g of glucose, while the other three did not contain glucose, but did contain 4.1, 7.7 and 9.2 g of acacia gum (as Fibregum from Nexira). These were served to the subjects in fixed portions containing 50g of digestible carbohydrates. Blood samples were collected at fasting, 15, 30, 45, 60, 90 and 120 minutes after eating. Plasma insulin was also measured.

The results indicated a dose–response relationship on the GI values, with the highest dose of acacia gum producing the lowest GI values. The same outcome was obtained with insulin levels (measured as insulin index or II). All three crispbreads produced II values that were proportional to their GI values. In addition to its GI, glucose and insulin lowering effects, acacia gum also functions as a prebiotic.

Acacia gum as a prebiotic

Prebiotics are generally some type of carbohydrate that serves as a food for friendly, probiotic bacteria, helping them to grow and keep healthy. Acacia gum’s prebiotic properties have been successfully demonstrated in several studies.

In one randomized, double-blind, controlled study,12 96 healthy volunteers received 6g daily of acacia gum (as Fibregum from Nexira) or fructooligosaccharides (FOS), or 3g each of acacia gum and FOS. After one week, fecal bifidobacteria increased by seven times with acacia gum compared to the initial value. Moreover, this effect was greater than the three times increase induced by FOS. Interestingly, the combination of acacia gum and FOS increased bifidobacteria by almost 14 times that of the initial value, demonstrating a synergetic effect. In addition, there was a slight reduction in the number of subjects with higher counts of Clostridium perfringens, in those supplementing with acacia gum.

To examine its prebiotic properties, another single-blind, controlled study13 was conducted in which 10 healthy volunteers consumed acacia gum (as Fibregum from Nexira) at the dose of 10 g/day and 15 g/day for 10 days, or sucrose as control at the same dose. Results were that concentrations of Bifidobacteria, Lactobacilli and total lactic acid bacteria groups were significantly increased with acacia gum at the dose of 10 g/d compared to control without affecting bacteroides (pathogenic bacteria). The bifidogenic effect was even more pronounced (10 times increase) in subjects having low initial Bifidobacteria count. The effect was also significant at the dose of 15 g/d. In addition, the number of stools per week was slightly increased with acacia gum (10 and 15 g/day) as compared with sucrose. However, daily stool weight was higher during acacia gum consumption. This effect is of interest for people suffering from constipation.

In addition, multiple other studies have demonstrated that acacia gum acts as a prebiotic, increasing the growth of desirable probiotic bacteria.14-18 Furthermore, it should be noted that, after a few days, no acacia gum is found in rat or human feces, meaning that acacia gum is totally broken down by colonic bacteria in the gut, and then fermented.19 As it turns out, this probiotic function has a positive role to play regarding gut barrier function.

Acacia and the gut barrier

The gut barrier is one of the most important components of the immune system. Its main role is to absorb nutrients and to serve as one of our body’s most important barrier. It protects us from potential allergic reactions, as well as microbiological and chemical threats. Our intestine is composed of epithelial cells sitting on a matrix (intestinal wall) and is colonized by trillions of bacteria, which play a role in gut barrier function. In short, the intestinal wall plus the friendly bacteria comprise the gut barrier.

However, sometimes the gut barrier is compromised. The incidence of impaired and increased intestinal wall permeability, also known as leaky gut syndrome (LGS), is now closely studied because of its potential involvement in many health issues and diseases. Different conditions, such as infection, trauma from burns and surgery, and the use or overuse of many medications, can be at the origin of the LGS. Those conditions cause inflammation and damage to the intestinal lining. LGS is associated with a wide range of general symptoms, such as fatigue, fevers of unknown origin, abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea, memory problems, concentration difficulties, and poor tolerance to exercise.

Research has been conducted on how acacia gum (as Fibregum from Nexira) was able to help reinforce gut barrier function—which was associated with its prebiotic properties. In addition to increasing Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli counts, it also helped increase the anti-inflammatory bacterium, Faecalibacterium prausnitzii.20 Consequently, it was not surprising that an experiment showed that acacia gum (as Fibregum from Nexira) reduced pro-inflammatory cytokines and increased the anti-inflammatory cytokines.21

Samples collected during this experiment were used in a cell line model to assess potential gut wall modulation, specifically impermeability. The results demonstrated that acacia gum (as Fibregum from Nexira) had a protective effect on barrier integrity as shown by an enhanced cell impermeability.22

Additional research23 was conducted to determine the mechanisms of gut impermeability restoration, at a cellular level. Samples of intestinal cells were made from donors suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and irritable bowel disease (IBD). Tight junctions—different types of proteins in the gut barrier—were examined since they consolidate the paracellular barrier that controls the flow of molecules in the intercellular space between the epithelium cells. Tight junctions are widely studied for their implication in the gut permeability in the IBD24 and for the involvement of the gut microbiota in their permeability.25 In any case, the results of this addition research were that Fibregum had a positive effect by increasing the number of tight junction proteins and thus by improving the gut impermeability.

Acacia gum and cholesterol

In addition to its many other benefits, acacia gum also helps lower cholesterol. In one study,26 acacia gum was administered to five healthy male volunteers (age range 30 to 55 years). The study was divided into a seven-day control period followed by a 21-day treatment period. During the treatment period, each subject took 25g of acacia gum at 9 a.m. daily in a 125 ml 7 percent dextrose solution. Compliance was monitored, and fasting blood samples were also taken for lipids (cholesterol, phospholipids, and triglycerides). Results showed that the total serum cholesterol concentration decreased by about 6.3 percent, which was significant.

In another study,27 seven apparently healthy non-obese subjects (four men and three women, mean age 35 years) were selected to participate. They had primary asymptomatic hyperlipoproteinemia of type II with family history of atherosclerosis. The study was divided into two periods: a 15-day control period followed by a 30-day treatment period. At the end of the control period, blood samples were collected from each subject after overnight fast. The subjects were then administered 15g of gum acacia twice a day along with the two main meals. The results indicate that administration of gum acacia caused a significant reduction (I0.4 percent) in serum total cholesterol levels. During the treatment period, the levels of cholesterol fell to 277 mg/dl from an initial value of 309 g mg/dl. HDL cholesterol (the “good cholesterol”) remained unchanged but VLDL + LDL cholesterol decreased markedly (14.6 percent) after ingestion of gum acacia.

Acacia gum safety

Acacia gum has been used in the food industry for decades as a food additive or ingredient. The joint FAO/WHO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/World Health Organization) expert committee on food additives recognizes acacia gum as a food additive (INS 414) that can be used with no specified ADI (acceptable daily intake). In the U.S., acacia gum benefits from a GRAS (generally recognized as safe) classification (CFR 184.1330). In Europe, acacia gum is listed as a food additive (E414) under the quantum satis principle.28 Additionally, a study29 also showed a high digestive tolerance with acacia gum (as Fibregum from Nexira). In this study, acacia gum did not induce flatulence below the dose of 30 g/day and daily doses higher than 50 g/day did not provoke any abdominal cramps or diarrhea. In short, acacia gum is a safe, as well as effective, fiber for use in foods and supplements.

Conclusion

Fiber is vital for our health and well-being, but Americans are not getting enough. Acacia gum provides an advantageous source of fiber with multiple benefits. This includes lowering GI and glucose levels, acting as a prebiotic to increase levels of friendly probiotic bacteria, reducing constipation, improving gut barrier function, and reducing cholesterol levels. Finally, acacia gum has international approval for its safety, and has been shown to have high digestive tolerance (as Fibregum from Nexira). The data indicates that acacia gum is an excellent choice as a fiber for enriching the diet of Americans. VR

Side-bar: Want another reason to increase fiber intake?

Research suggests that a higher fiber intake may be inversely related to depression symptoms. Analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that when total fiber intake reached at least 21 g/day, the risk of depressive symptoms was relatively low.2  Similar results were found in a study of Japanese employees as well.3

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