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Title: Inulin  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Dietary fiber, Jerusalem artichoke, Fructan, Chicory, Oligosaccharide
Collection: Food Additives, Polysaccharides, Prebiotics (Nutrition)
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ATC code V04
ChemSpider  Y
DrugBank  Y
Molar mass Polymer; depends on n
NFPA 704
Except where otherwise noted, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C [77 °F], 100 kPa).
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Inulins are a group of naturally occurring polysaccharides produced by many types of plants,[1] industrially most often extracted from chicory.[2] The inulins belong to a class of dietary fibers known as fructans. Inulin is used by some plants as a means of storing energy and is typically found in roots or rhizomes. Most plants that synthesize and store inulin do not store other forms of carbohydrate such as starch.


  • Origin and history 1
  • Chemical structure and properties 2
  • Uses 3
    • Processed foods 3.1
    • Industrial use 3.2
    • Medical 3.3
    • Diet 3.4
  • Biochemistry 4
  • Calculation of glomerular filtration rate 5
  • Metabolism in vivo 6
  • Natural sources 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Origin and history

Inulin is a natural storage carbohydrate present in more than 36,000 species of plants, including wheat, onion, bananas, garlic, asparagus, sunchoke and chicory. For these plants, inulin is used as an energy reserve and for regulating cold resistance.[3][4] Because it is soluble in water, it is osmotically active. The plants can change the osmotic potential of cells by changing the degree of polymerization of inulin molecules with hydrolysis. By changing osmotic potential without changing the total amount of carbohydrate, plants can withstand cold and drought during winter periods.[5]

Inulin was discovered in 1804 by German scientist Valentin Rose. He found “a peculiar substance” from Inula helenium roots by boiling water extraction.[5] The substance was named inulin because of I. helenium, but it is also called helenin, alatin, and meniantin. Indigestible polysaccharides were of great scientific concern in the beginning of the 20th century.[6] Irvine used chemical methods like methylation to study the molecular structure of inulin, and designed the isolation method for this new anhydrofructose.[6][7] During studies of renal tubules in the 1930s, researchers searched for a substance that can serve as a biomarker that is not absorbed or diffused after introduction into tubules.[8][9] Richards introduced inulin because of its high molecular weight and its resistance to enzymes.[8] Today, inulin is used as an active ingredient for functional foods,[4] and it is also used to determine the glomerular filtration rate.[10]

Chemical structure and properties

Inulin is a heterogeneous collection of fructose polymers. It consists of chain-terminating glucosyl moieties and a repetitive fructosyl moiety,[11] which are linked by β(2,1) bonds. The degree of polymerization (DP) of standard inulin ranges from 2 to 60. After removing the fractions with DP lower than 10 during manufacturing process, the remaining product is high performance inulin.[3][4] Some articles considered the fractions with DP lower than 10 as short-chained fructooligosaccharides, and only called the longer-chained molecules inulin.[5]

Because of the β(2,1) linkages, inulin is not digested by enzymes in the human alimentary system, contributing to its functional properties: reduced calorie value, dietary fiber and prebiotic effects. Without color and odor, it has little impact on sensory characteristics of food products. Oligofructose has 35% of the sweetness of sucrose, and its sweetening profile is similar to sugar. Standard inulin is slightly sweet, while high performance inulin is not. Its solubility is higher than the classical fibers. When thoroughly mixed with liquid, inulin forms a gel and a white creamy structure, which is similar to fat. Its three-dimensional gel network, consisting of insoluble submicron crystalline inulin particles, immobilizes large amount of water, assuring its physical stability.[12] It can also improve the stability of foams and emulsions.[4]


Processed foods

Inulin is increasingly used in processed foods because it has unusually adaptable characteristics. Its flavour ranges from bland to subtly sweet (about 10% of the sweetness of sugar/sucrose). It can be used to replace sugar, fat, and flour. This is advantageous because inulin contains 25-35% of the food energy of carbohydrates (starch, sugar).[13][14] In addition to being a versatile ingredient, inulin has many health benefits. It increases calcium absorption[15] and possibly magnesium absorption,[16] while promoting the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria. Chicory inulin is reported to increase absorption of calcium in girls with lower calcium absorption[17] and in young men.[18] In terms of nutrition, it is considered a form of soluble fiber and is sometimes categorized as a prebiotic. Conversely, it is also considered a FODMAP, a class of carbohydrates which are rapidly fermented in the colon producing gas and drawing water into the colon which is a problem for individuals with irritable bowel syndrome. The consumption of large quantities (in particular, by sensitive or unaccustomed individuals) can lead to gas and bloating, and products that contain inulin will sometimes include a warning to add it gradually to one's diet.

Due to the body's limited ability to process fructans, inulin has minimal increasing impact on blood sugar. It is considered suitable for diabetics and potentially helpful in managing blood sugar-related illnesses.

Industrial use

Nonhydrolyzed inulin can also be directly converted to ethanol in a simultaneous saccharification and fermentation process, which may have great potential for converting crops high in inulin into ethanol for fuel.[19]


Inulin and its analog sinistrin are used to help measure kidney function by determining the glomerular filtration rate (GFR), which is the volume of fluid filtered from the renal (kidney) glomerular capillaries into the Bowman's capsule per unit time.[20] Inulin is of particular use as it is not secreted or reabsorbed in any appreciable amount at the nephron, allowing GFR to be calculated. However, due to clinical limitations, inulin and sinistrin, although characterised by better handling features, are rarely used for this purpose and creatinine values are the standard for determining an approximate GFR.

Inulin is postulated to benefit the immune system through the direct interaction between the inulin and its metabolites with the gut-associated lymphoid tissues and especially Peyer's patches, though this link has not been established in humans.[18] In mice experiment, mice supplemented with inulin showed reduced carcinogen-induced aberrant crypt foci in the distal colon during exposure to pathogens or tumor inducers.[21] Inulin-supplemented mice also showed lower mortality rate in exposure with Listeria.[22] Research on Crohn’s disease patients suggested daily intake of inulin significantly decreases disease activity and significantly increases the amount of IL-10-positive mucosal dendritic cells and toll-like receptors 2 and 4 of these cells. In experiment on infants at high risk of atopy, formula with galacto-oligosaccharides and inulin significantly decrease incidence of atopic dermatitis, which suggests inulin and galacto-oligosaccharides promote immune development.[23]

Inulin enhances the growth and activities of selected beneficial bacteria or inhibits growth or activities of certain pathogenic bacteria, hence promoting colonic health.[24] In vitro inulin was found to selectively stimulate the growth of Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, which are healthful bacteria.[25] This phenomenon is probably attributable to the fact that inulin affected short-chain fatty acids concentrations in the lumen. Butyrate, one of the well-studied SCFA, regulates many genes related to proliferation procedure, differentiation and apoptosis of colonic epithelial cells, and butyrate might stimulate growth of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli by reducing apoptosis.[26]

Inulin is reported to decrease the level of serum cholesterol and triglycerides, hence benefits lipidemia and the cardiovascular system.[18] Studies on rats demonstrated that inulin affects cholesterolemia and triglyceride levels by decreasing postprandial cholesterolemia and triglyceridemia.[27][28] These effects are caused by a reduction in the number of very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) particles and by reducing of lipogenic enzyme activity.[18] Results of human studies are controversial. A study of healthy young men showed reduction for triglycerides and cholesterol individually.[29] However, no differences of triglycerides and cholesterol were seen in a study on 64 young women.[30]

It is also used for rehydration and remineralization following important loss of water, such as diarrhea and diaphoresis. Inulin can also be used as a vaccine adjuvant.[31]

Inulin is a prebiotic bifidus factor (enhances the growth of bifidobacteria),[32] but it's nonviscous;[33] its value for infant nutrition, gastrointestinal health, colon cancer prevention, blood sugar and lipid metabolism, bone mineralization, fatty liver disease, obesity, and immunity is controversial.[34][35]

Inulin is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.[36]

A single report of what is claimed to be an allergic reaction to inulin exists in the literature.[37]

About 30–40% of people in Central Europe suffer from fructose malabsorption.[38][39] Since inulin is a fructan, excess dietary intake may lead to minor side effects, such as increased flatulence and loose stools in those with fructose malabsorption.[40] Fructan intake for people with fructose malabsorption should be kept to less than 0.5 grams/serving.[40]


The side effects of inulin dietary fiber diet which may occur in sensitive persons are:[41]

  • Intestinal discomfort, including flatulence, bloating, stomach noises, belching, and cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Anaphylactic allergic reaction (rare) - inulin is used for GFR testing, and in some isolated cases has resulted in an allergic reaction, possibly linked to a food allergy response.[42]


Inulins are polymers composed mainly of fructose units, and typically have a terminal glucose. The fructose units in inulins are joined by a β(2→1) glycosidic bond. In general, plant inulins contain between 20 and several thousand fructose units. Smaller compounds are called fructooligosaccharides, the simplest being 1-kestose, which has 2 fructose units and 1 glucose unit.

Inulins are named in the following manner, where n is the number of fructose residues and py is the abbreviation for pyranosyl:

  • Inulins with a terminal glucose are known as alpha-D-glucopyranosyl-[beta-D-fructofuranosyl](n-1)-D-fructofuranosides, abbreviated as GpyFn.
  • Inulins without glucose are beta-D-fructopyranosyl-[D-fructofuranosyl](n-1)-D-fructofuranosides, abbreviated as FpyFn.

Hydrolysis of inulins may yield fructooligosaccharides, which are oligomers with a degree of polymerization (DP) of <= 10.

Calculation of glomerular filtration rate

Inulin is uniquely treated by nephrons in that it is completely filtered at the glomerulus but neither secreted nor reabsorbed by the tubules. This property of inulin allows the clearance of inulin to be used clinically as a highly accurate measure of glomerular filtration rate (GFR) — the rate of plasma from the afferent arteriole that is filtered into Bowman's capsule measured in mL/min.

It is informative to contrast the properties of inulin with those of para-aminohippuric acid (PAH). PAH is partially filtered from plasma at the glomerulus and not reabsorbed by the tubules, in a manner identical to inulin. PAH is different from inulin in that the fraction of PAH that bypasses the glomerulus and enters the nephron's tubular cells (via the peritubular capillaries) is completely secreted. Renal clearance of PAH is thus useful in calculation of renal plasma flow (RPF), which empirically is (1-hematocrit) times renal blood flow. Of note, the clearance of PAH is reflective only of RPF to portions of the kidney that deal with urine formation, and, thus, underestimates the actual RPF by about 10%.[43]

The measurement of GFR by inulin or sinistrin is still considered the gold-standard. However, it has now been largely replaced by other, simpler measures that are approximations of GFR. These measures, which involve clearance of such substrates as EDTA, iohexol, Cystatin C, 125I-iothalamate (sodium radioiothalamate), the chromium radioisotope 51Cr (chelated with EDTA), and creatinine, have had their utility confirmed in large cohorts of patients with chronic kidney disease.

For both inulin and creatinine, the calculations involve concentrations in the urine and in the serum. However, unlike creatinine, inulin is not naturally present in the body. This is an advantage of inulin (because the amount infused will be known) and a disadvantage (because an infusion is necessary.)

Metabolism in vivo

Inulin is indigestible by the human enzymes ptyalin and amylase, which are adapted to digest starch. As a result, inulin passes through much of the digestive system intact. It is only in the colon that bacteria metabolise inulin, with the release of significant quantities of carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and/or methane. Inulin-containing foods can be rather gassy, in particular for those unaccustomed to inulin, and these foods should be consumed in moderation at first.

Inulin is a soluble fiber, one of three types of dietary fiber including soluble, insoluble, and resistant starch. Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gelatinous material. Some soluble fibers may help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels.

Because normal digestion does not break inulin down into monosaccharides, it does not elevate blood sugar levels and may, therefore, be helpful in the management of diabetes. Inulin also stimulates the growth of bacteria in the gut.[44] Inulin passes through the stomach and duodenum undigested and is highly available to the gut bacterial flora. This makes it similar to resistant starches and other fermentable carbohydrates.

Some traditional diets contain over 20 g per day of inulin or fructooligosaccharides. The diet of the prehistoric hunter-forager in the Chihuahuan Desert has been estimated to include 135 g per day of inulin-type fructans.[45] Many foods naturally high in inulin or fructooligosaccharides, such as chicory, garlic, and leek, have been seen as "stimulants of good health" for centuries.[46]

Natural sources

Plants that contain high concentrations of inulin include:


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External links

  • "Dietary Fibber: Don't be fooled by polydextrose and other fiber additives", Slate.
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