Inulin is a naturally produced storage carbohydrate found in over 36,000 plant species, counting asparagus, wheat, bananas, chicory, garlic, onion and Jerusalem artichoke. These plants use inulin to reserve their energy and also to regulate cold resistance. Since inulin dissolves in water, it is said to be active osmotically. Plants possess the ability to alter the osmotic potential of their cells by modifying the extent of inulin molecule polymerization with hydrolysis. As plants are able to alter the osmotic potential without disturbing the entire carbohydrate amount in them, they are able to endure cold as well as drought, especially during the winter months.
A German scientist named Valentin Rose discovered inulin way back in 1804. When he boiled the roots of Inula helenium in water and extracted the resultant solution, he discovered a strange substance. As the substance was derived from I. helenium, he named it inulin. However, this substance is also known by various other names, including alatin, helenin and meniantin. In the early years of the 20th century, scientists were a lot concerned about all indigestible polysaccharides.
Several chemical methods such as methylation were used by Irvine to examine the molecular arrangement of inulin and developed a method for isolating this newly discovered anhydrofructose. In the 1930s, during the course of studies undertaken to examine renal tubules, scientists explored a substance, which would be able to work in the form of a biomarker and will not be reabsorbed or discharged after it is brought into tubules. Richards was the first to introduce inulin owing to the high molecular weight of the substance as well as its opposition to enzymes. Currently, inulin is employed in the form of an active constituent of functional foods. In addition, inulin is also employed for determining the glomerular filtration pace.
Often, inulin is also called alantin, alant starch, neosugar and diabetic sugar. These days, several manufacturers include inulin in processed foods, as this substance offers incredible health benefits. In addition, inulin can also be used as a substitute for ingredients with elevated calorie content, like sugar, fat and even flour. Nevertheless, there is a debate regarding the amount of inulin that should be used safely.
Plants have various mechanisms to store energy for later use. Inulin is one such way of improving the energy reserves of plants. In fact, inulin is present in the roots and rhizomes of several plants. When consumed, inulin does not result in any spike in the blood sugar levels. As a result, this substance is an ideal alternative food for people with diabetes.
Inulin offers several health benefits. Compared to sugar, the food energy in inulin is less by 33%. On the other hand, its food energy was about a sixth to ninth less compared to fat. In addition, inulin is a soluble fiber, denoting that when it moves through the digestive tract, it produces a gel. As the human body is unable to digest fiber, it passes almost intact through the intestines. In the intestines, inulin nourishes the beneficial bacteria present in the gut. At the same time, inulin aids in preventing the body from taking up less of LDL or “bad” cholesterol.
As inulin can help to increase the amount of calcium the body can absorb, it can be classified as a prebiotic. Precisely speaking, a prebiotic is a substance that nourishes healthy bacteria inside the intestinal system of our body. Feeding the good bacteria in the gut helps them to flourish and enhance the functioning of the intestines. Nevertheless, it is worth noting here that when some people intake excessive inulin it can result in gas formation, bloating, diarrhea, and several other problems. In fact, this is truer for people who are sensitive to inulin.
A section of people deplore the use of processed inulin as a food additive. They argue that from the food context, refining any substance may result in more harm compared to good. According to them, aside from nourishing good bacteria in the gut, inulin also promotes specific yeasts present in the intestine. At the same time, this substance also feeds harmful bacteria like Klebsiella. It is worth mentioning here that Klebsiella is said to be one of the reasons for intestine permeability. In other words, it is responsible for leaky gut.
Aside from these, opponents of inulin use assert that when any product is refined and included into an increasing number of foods out of context, it may give rise to more allergic reactions. However, the fact is that reports of people having allergic reactions after taking inulin are very rare. Nevertheless, detractors claim that the incidences of allergic reactions following inulin ingestion will increase as more and more people start using this substance as an additive. However, even the critics have agreed that inulin offers several health benefits. Despite this, apparently critics advise that it is prudent for people to consume inulin in its natural form rather than using it in the form of a food additive.
It has been proved that supplements containing inulin perform an active role to augment the body’s ability to absorb calcium. Several medicine reviews undertaken by pharmacists in the United States have suggested that the absorption of calcium is more rapid in a number of groups of people, such as post-menopausal women as well as those in the adolescent stage of life.
Unlike animals, plants never store energy and inulin is an ideal example of this type of plant. This substance is present in the roots and rhizomes of plants, but consuming it does not result in a spike in blood sugar levels. Hence, inulin is perfect nutrition for people with diabetes.
There are several benefits of inulin consumption. However, currently scientists are exploring the precise benefits of this substance with a scientific support. In fact, inulin is an energy food that contains elevated levels of soluble fiber. As our body does not absorb dietary fiber, inulin helps to cure common health problems like acid reflux and constipation. In turn, this feeds the beneficial bacteria present in the gut and, at the same time, slows down the build-up of LDL or “bad” cholesterol in the blood stream. In fact, one major function of inulin in the human body is to keep the levels of unhealthy cholesterol in check. There is ample proof that demonstrates inulin helps to enhance the levels of lipids in our body.
As inulin provides nutrition to bifidobacteria and helps in their development, it helps to boost the immune system. At the same time, inulin thwarts the development of harmful pathogens in the gut, which would otherwise cause harm to the gut mucosa.
Findings of a number of studies have also shown that diets incorporating inulin help in decreasing the chances of developing colon cancer, as this plant material helps to lower the effects of genotoxins. It has been found that inulin helps to enhance the uniformity and volume of stool, thereby lowering the chances of suffering from diarrhea and constipation. At the same time, inulin also possesses the aptitude to put off relapses in c. difficile associated diarrhea.
Moreover, diets that contain inulin help to lessen the chances of developing metabolic disorders, as it releases amino acid chains inside the intestines and, at the same time, regulates digestion.
Side effects and cautions
The several health benefits offered by inulin notwithstanding, consumption of this substance has a number of negative effects too. The adverse effects of inulin include nausea, abdominal pain, cramps, bloating, stool inconsistency and flatulence. If you notice any of the above mentioned side effects following inulin consumption, you need to reduce the intake amount of the substance and consult your physician immediately for remedial measures.