What is “Oligosaccharide”?

Breast Feeding

When you hear the word “oligosaccharide,” what image comes to your mind? Many of you may have an image of “good for your intestine movement” or “It may work to improve constipation”.

In this article, we would like to introduce you to oligosaccharide, which you may or may not know about.

“Sugar” is a source of energy for the body

Before we talk about oligosaccharides, let’s talk about sugar. When it comes to sugar, we tend to think of sweet things like sugar and honey. However, starch, which is found in rice and potatoes, is also a type of sugar. When sugar is broken down in the body, energy is produced, and that energy is used to power our brains and bodies, making it an indispensable source of energy for our bodies.

There are various types of sugar, such as fructose, which is found in fruits, and glucose, which is known as a source of energy for the brain, and oligosaccharide is one of them.

The word “oligosaccharide” means “less” in Greek, but why does it have this name?

It has to do with the number of sugars. Sugars can be classified as “monosaccharides” consisting of a single sugar, “oligosaccharides” consisting of two to ten monosaccharides, and “polysaccharides” consisting of many more monosaccharides. Oligosaccharides are so named because they are composed of a small number of monosaccharides.

There are two types of oligosaccharides: digestible oligosaccharides, such as sucrose (a component of sugar) and lactose (found in milk), which are broken down by digestive enzymes and become a source of energy for the body, and non-digestible oligosaccharides, which are not digested and reach the large intestine.

In general, oligosaccharides that “regulate the condition of intestine” refer to non-digestible oligosaccharides.

Oligosaccharide to increase bifidobacteria

Bifidobacteria are widely known as good bacteria that help regulate the intestinal environment and oligosaccharide is a good partner to increase this bifidobacteria. The discovery of oligosaccharides was made in the 1950’s when the difference in the “tummy condition” of breastfed babies and formula-fed babies was discovered.

When research was conducted to find out the reason for this, it was discovered that breast milk contains a lot of special oligosaccharides not found in formula. And oligosaccharides have received attention as a substance that increases bifidobacteria, and research on various types of oligosaccharides has begun, especially in Japan.

Japan has long been active in the production of fermented foods such as sake and miso, and research on the production of oligosaccharides using microorganisms and enzymes was actively conducted.

As oligosaccharides began to be manufactured, research on their functionality also became active, and various functions became clear, such as preventing tooth decay and promoting the absorption of minerals, in addition to proliferating bifidobacteria.


Today, many foods and supplements containing oligosaccharides are on the market. Oligosaccharide is not only nutritious and tasty, but it also helps to regulate the condition of the intestine. In the next article, we will introduce the characteristics of oligosaccharides in detail.

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