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BACKGROUND: Iron fortificants tend to be poorly absorbed and may adversely affect the gut, especially in African children. OBJECTIVE: We assessed the effects of prebiotic galacto-oligosaccharides/fructo-oligosaccharides (GOS/FOS) on iron absorption and gut health when added to iron-fortified infant cereal. METHODS: We randomly assigned Kenyan infants (n = 191) to receive daily for 3 wk a cereal containing iron and 7.5 g GOS/FOS (7.5 g+iron group), 3 g (3-g+iron group) GOS/FOS, or no prebiotics (iron group). A subset of infants in the 2 prebiotic+iron groups (n = 66) consumed 4 stable iron isotope-labeled test meals without and with prebiotics, both before and after the intervention. Primary outcome was fractional iron absorption (FIA) from the cereal with or without prebiotics regardless of dose, before and after 3 wk of consumption. Secondary outcomes included fecal gut microbiota, iron and inflammation status, and effects of prebiotic dose. RESULTS: Median (25th-75th percentiles) FIAs from meals before intervention were as follows: 16.3% (8.0%-27.6%) without prebiotics compared with 20.5% (10.4%-33.4%) with prebiotics (Cohen d = 0.53; P < 0.001). FIA from the meal consumed without prebiotics after intervention was 22.9% (8.5%-32.4%), 41% higher than from the meal without prebiotics before intervention (Cohen d = 0.36; P = 0.002). FIA from the meal consumed with prebiotics after intervention was 26.0% (12.2%-36.1%), 60% higher than from the meal without prebiotics before intervention (Cohen d = 0.45; P = 0.007). After 3 wk, compared with the iron group, the following results were observed: 1) Lactobacillus sp. abundances were higher in both prebiotic+iron groups (P < 0.05); 2) Enterobacteriaceae sp. abundances (P = 0.022) and the sum of pathogens (P < 0.001) were lower in the 7.5-g+iron group; 3) the abundance of bacterial toxin-encoding genes was lower in the 3-g+iron group (false discovery rate < 0.05); 4) fecal pH (P < 0.001) and calprotectin (P = 0.033) were lower in the 7.5-g+iron group. CONCLUSIONS: Adding prebiotics to iron-fortified infant cereal increases iron absorption and reduces the adverse effects of iron on the gut microbiome and inflammation in Kenyan infants. This trial was registered at as NCT03894358.

Original publication




Journal article


Am J Clin Nutr

Publication Date





456 - 469


Kenya, absorption, fructo-oligosaccharides, galacto-oligosaccharides, gut inflammation, gut microbiome, infant, iron, iron stable isotopes, prebiotic, Humans, Infant, Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions, Gastrointestinal Microbiome, Inflammation, Iron, Iron Isotopes, Isotopes, Kenya, Oligosaccharides, Prebiotics