CSIRO scientists in Adelaide have discovered that the kind of 'resistant starch' now being used to make environmentally-friendly packaging can also boost health-giving bacteria in the human bowel and may one day help save thousands of Australian lives.
Dr David Topping, from the CSIRO Division of Human Nutrition, today announced the results of new research which show that resistant starch promotes the growth of bifido bacteria in the gut æ the same kind of beneficial bacteria which are included in many commercial yoghurt brands.
Dr Topping's tongue-in-cheek prediction is that future Australians could wrap their sandwiches in plastic made from plant-based resistant starch æ then eat the wrapper instead of throwing it away.
The CSIRO's latest research results, showing how resistant starch changes the mix of bacteria beneficially in the human bowel, will be published later this year in the international Journal of Nutrition.
Dr Topping says resistant starch is now shaping up as a very important dietary protection against cancer and other bowel diseases, which are responsible for over four per cent of all Australian deaths æ and kill more than 4,300 individuals each year.
Resistant starch is so named because it resists being digested in the stomach and lower intestine. Instead it travels right through the digestive tract to arrive largely intact in the large intestine (or colon), where it had a number of significant health benefits.
Dr Topping says scientists did not at first fully appreciate why resistant starch was so good for the colon. However, earlier research in pigs had shown it dramatically promoted the growth of beneficial bacteria, boosting
their numbers tenfold. In the process it protected the bowel against cancer and other diseases, including diarrhoea and constipation. Results in human research are equally promising.