“And one day, she discovered that she was fierce and strong, and full of fire and that not even she could hold herself back because her passion burned brighter than her fears.”
This quote by Mark Anthony brings to life the strength and resilience of being a woman. Women are indeed strong and fierce, but being a woman is not always easy. The power to bring another life into this world and then nurture it, is what sets them apart. It also brings about its own set of health challenges.
Women’s Health Challenges in Special Circumstances
- Pregnancy – While a woman is carrying her child, she is at a vulnerable stage in life due to the associated impact of pregnancy on her health. There is increased nutritional demand as the pregnancy progresses, as well as she may be at risk for gastrointestinal issues such as pregnancy-induced constipation. Appropriate and adequate diet and supplementation of nutrients insufficient in the diet play an important role during this time. 
- Menopause – At a time when a woman is nearing the end of her reproductive phase, several hormonal changes, particularly the depletion of estrogen levels, contribute to specific health issues. The falling estrogen levels contribute to a lowered bone mineral density that increases the risk of osteoporosis, fractures, and thereby increased morbidity and mortality.
It is possible to positively influence women’s health in such special circumstances using specialized nutrition such as prebiotic fibers.
What are Prebiotic Fibers?
The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) 2016 defines prebiotics as substrates that are selectively utilized by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit. Prebiotic fibers are non-digestible oligosaccharides such as fructo-oligosaccharides, which selectively stimulate the growth of beneficial gut microbiota such as lactobacillus and bifidobacteria, and thereby help confer beneficial effects for the host’s gut immune system.
Prebiotics can be included in our daily diet through raw fruits and vegetables, fermented pickles, or dairy products. They can also be consumed as supplements such as through functional foods or pharmaceutical formulations.
Role of Prebiotics in Women’s Health
Intake of prebiotic fiber, short-chain fructo-oligosaccharides (sc-FOS), has been globally studied and found to confer health benefits among women, such as increased nutrient absorption and improved gut health.
Enhanced Mineral Absorption
Insufficient dietary intake, aging, and hormonal imbalances during menopause contribute to accelerated skeletal aging in women, making them vulnerable to osteoporosis and fractures. Adequate mineral consumption and absorption thus become crucial to support the aging skeletal system in women. Several studies have shown improved mineral status amongst women. Post-menopausal women, when supplemented with a daily intake of 10g of sc-FOS for 5 weeks, there was a significant increase in copper absorption. Another similar study showed daily intake of sc-FOS (10g) for 5 weeks increased magnesium absorption in women with dietary inadequacy of magnesium. The same study also showed that calcium absorption was improved with sc-FOS supplementation in late post-menopausal women. Among young girls, prebiotic fiber combination intervention for 3 weeks resulted in a significantly higher overall calcium absorption percentage.
It is evident that prebiotic fibers can help reduce skeletal aging by enhancing mineral absorption such as calcium, magnesium, and copper which are crucial for healthy bones.
Relief from Constipation
Functional constipation is a commonly encountered problem in pregnancy. Intake of non-digestible prebiotic dietary fibers like sc-FOS has been indicated to support healthy bowel movements, including during pregnancy. A study has shown that intake of 8g/d prebiotic fiber (FOS) in late gestation (from 26th week of gestation to one month after delivery) caused an improvement in stool frequency two weeks post-intervention, suggesting a potential constipation alleviation effect in pregnancy. 
Improved Gut Health
Prebiotic fibers like sc-FOS are known to selectively stimulate the growth of commensal bifidobacteria in the gut. This, in turn, confers associated health benefits like increased production of short-chain fatty acids, positive influence on host nutrition, and enhanced natural defense mechanisms against the invading pathogenic bacteria. Prebiotic sc-FOS consumption in pregnant women was shown to have a bifidogenic effect which plays an important role in gut health.
Prebiotics like sc-FOS are a promising nutritional intervention for supporting women’s health, as they are known to improve mineral absorption, which is crucial in aging women. They also positively affect gut health and can prospectively enhance women’s overall health and well-being.
 Shi W, Xu X, Zhang Y, Guo S, Wang J, Wang J. Epidemiology and Risk Factors of Functional Constipation in Pregnant Women. PLoS One. 2015 Jul 24;10(7):e0133521.
 Jouanne M, Oddoux S, Noël A, Voisin-Chiret AS. Nutrient Requirements during Pregnancy and Lactation. Nutrients. 2021 Feb 21;13(2):692.
 Geyer C. Postmenopausal Osteoporosis: The Role of Lifestyle in Maintaining Bone Mass and Reducing Fracture Risk. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2016 Dec 16;11(2):125-128.
 International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) 2016 Available at https://isappscience.org/for-scientists/resources/prebiotics/ Last accessed on 02nd February 2022
 Guarino MPL, Altomare A, Emerenziani S, Di Rosa C, Ribolsi M, Balestrieri P, Iovino P, Rocchi G, Cicala M. Mechanisms of Action of Prebiotics and Their Effects on Gastro-Intestinal Disorders in Adults. Nutrients. 2020 Apr 9;12(4):1037. doi: 10.3390/nu12041037. PMID: 32283802; PMCID: PMC7231265.
 Ducros V et al., Influence of shortchain fructo-oligosaccharides (sc-FOS) on absorption of Cu, Zn, and Se in healthy postmenopausal women. J Am Coll Nutr 2005 Feb, 24(1):30-7
 Holloway L, Moynihan S, Abrams SA, Kent K, Hsu AR, Friedlander AL. Effects of oligofructose-enriched inulin on intestinal absorption of calcium and magnesium and bone turnover markers in postmenopausal women. Br J Nutr. 2007 Feb;97(2):365-72.
 Whisner CM, Martin BR, Nakatsu CH, McCabe GP, McCabe LD, Peacock M, Weaver CM. Soluble maize fibre affects short-term calcium absorption in adolescent boys and girls: a randomised controlled trial using dual stable isotopic tracers. Br J Nutr. 2014 Aug 14;112(3):446-56.
 Jinno S, Toshimitsu T, Nakamura Y, Kubota T, Igoshi Y, Ozawa N, Suzuki S, Nakano T, Morita Y, Arima T, Yamaide F, Kohno Y, Masuda K, Shimojo N. Maternal Prebiotic Ingestion Increased the Number of Fecal Bifidobacteria in Pregnant Women but Not in Their Neonates Aged One Month. Nutrients. 2017 Feb 26;9(3):196.