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Due to its low digestibility in the small intestine, a major fraction of the polyol isomalt reaches the colon. However, little is known about effects on the intestinal microflora. During two 4-week periods in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over design, nineteen healthy volunteers consumed a controlled basal diet enriched with either 30 g isomalt or 30 g sucrose daily. Stools were collected at the end of each test phase and various microbiological and luminal markers were analysed. Fermentation characteristics of isomalt were also investigated in vitro. Microbiological analyses of faecal samples indicated a shift of the gut flora towards an increase of bifidobacteria following consumption of the isomalt diet compared with the sucrose diet (P<0.05). During the isomalt phase, the activity of bacterial beta-glucosidase decreased (P<0.05) whereas beta-glucuronidase, sulfatase, nitroreductase and urease remained unchanged. Faecal polyamines were not different between test periods with the exception of cadaverine, which showed a trend towards a lower concentration following isomalt (P=0.055). Faecal SCFA, lactate, bile acids, neutral sterols, N, NH3, phenol and p-cresol were not affected by isomalt consumption. In vitro, isomalt was metabolized in several bifidobacteria strains and yielded high butyrate concentrations. Isomalt, which is used widely as a low-glycaemic and low-energy sweetener, has to be considered a prebiotic carbohydrate that might contribute to a healthy luminal environment of the colonic mucosa.