Published: Jul 15, 2016
Author: BioCeuticals - Editor
Over the last decade or so, there has been an explosion of research in the field of probiotics, and the potential role they play in immune system development. Put simply, probiotics are “friendly” bacteria that make the body their home and pass on an array of benefits to us. We’ve known for a long time that they help digestion, but what the science now shows, is that they may influence the functioning and development of the body’s entire immune system, which may assist in protecting us against mild infections such as colds.
Evidence also shows that formula fed babies have a different composition of bacteria in their body, when compared to breastfed babies. It is suggested that this difference in bacterial balance could influence how an infant’s immune system functions in the early years of life. This can be down to many things including the natural presence of “friendly” bacteria in breast milk, and also special types of carbohydrates known as “oligosaccharides”. These oligosaccharides in breast milk act as a prebiotic, meaning they feed the friendly gut bugs, helping them to flourish and subsequently support the immune system.
Understanding this, scientists have gone on to investigate the benefit of mixing oligosaccharides (e.g. galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS)) into formula, or giving with probiotics. The results are very promising, and it seems that by mixing GOS and FOS into formula, you may help your little one achieve a balance of friendly bacteria in the intestines which is very similar to that of breastfed babies. What’s more, this bacteria food has been shown to boost the immune functioning of the formula-fed infants, whilst also improving their gut health. 1
Giving probiotics has also been shown to help beneficially stimulate and regulate the immune system 2, while a less optimal microbiota may increase risk of developing mild allergy-related symptoms. 3
Research shows a blend of four strains of probiotic bacteria have specific benefits for infants when taken during the final trimester of pregnancy and in the first 6 months of life; these are Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium animalis, Lactobacillus salivarius, Lactobacillus paracasei, also known as the LAB4b blend.4
Bifidobacteria strains are the most common of strains found in healthy breastfed infants, whereas other organisms are more dominant in formula-fed infants.5
Of course, there are many factors which impact your child’s risk of infection such as rest, good nutrition and minimised exposure to individuals who are sick. However, if you want to give your little one’s immune system a boost, and support their tummy, adding the right prebiotic blend and probiotics to their formula (if you are unable to breastfeed) is an option worth considering.
It is also good to remember that exposure to germs, and the occasional cold, is not such a bad thing for your children. Think of the immune system like the brain, it needs exposure to new things in order to learn and become smarter - and consider bacteria and other microbes as the teachers.
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1. Holscher HD, Faust KL, Czerkies LA, et al. Effects of prebiotic-containing infant formula on gastrointestinal tolerance and fecal microbiota in a randomized controlled trial. JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr 2012;36(1 Suppl):95S-105S.
2. Bruzzese E, Volpicelli M, Squeglia V, et al. A formula containing galacto- and fructo-oligosaccharides prevents intestinal and extra-intestinal infections: an observational study. Clin Nutr 2009;28(2):156-161.
3. McKeever TM, Lewis SA, Smith C, et al. The importance of prenatal exposures on the development of allergic disease: a birth cohort study using the West Midlands general practice database. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2002;166(6):827-832.
4. Allen SJ, Jordan S, Storey M, et al. Probiotics in the prevention of eczema: a randomised controlled trial. Arch Dis Child. 20148;99(11):1014-1019.
5. Oozeer R, van Limpt K, Ludwig T, et al. Intestinal microbiology in early life: specific prebiotics can have similar functionalities as human-milk oligosaccharides. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;98(2):561S-571S.