Probiotics & infant health

The intriguing universe of microbiota within the human body, specifically in the gut, plays a pivotal role in maintaining health and well-being. The topic of probiotics and their influence on infant gut health and immune development has gained momentum in scientific research.1 In this article we will look at what probiotics are, how they influence the formation of an infant’s gut microbiome, and their role in supporting immune health, especially in the formative years of life.

Probiotics: The Friendly Bacteria

Probiotics, often dubbed “friendly bacteria”, are live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.2 Commonly found in fermented foods like yogurt and fermented vegetables, as well as dietary supplements, these microorganisms are a crucial element in promoting a healthy balance within the intestinal flora. The most common types of probiotic bacteria belong to the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium families.

The Infant Gut Microbiome

The formation of an infant’s gut microbiome begins at birth and is crucially influenced by the mode of delivery, amongst other factors. Babies born via vaginal delivery are exposed to their mother’s vaginal and fecal microbiota, which serves as the initial colonizing bacteria in their gut. This process lays the foundation for the development of their own gut microbiome.3 In contrast, infants delivered via Cesarean section (C-section) are more likely to be colonized by skin and environmental microbes, and studies indicate that they may exhibit a different microbiome composition and functionality compared to their vaginally-born counterpart.4

Microbiome and Immune Development

The gut microbiome and the immune system are intricately intertwined. The symbiotic relationship between gut bacteria and host cells plays a vital role in the proper development and functioning of the immune system. Healthy microbiome diversity is associated with a balanced immune response, while dysbiosis, or microbial imbalance, can potentially dysregulate the immune function. 5 The early colonization of the gut in infants thus plays a crucial role in shaping their future immune health and disease susceptibility.

Probiotics: A Pillar of Infant Immune Health

Research suggests that probiotics could play a pivotal role in supporting the developing immune system of infants. Here’s how:

  1. Strengthening Barrier Function: Probiotics can enhance the intestinal barrier function, preventing harmful bacteria from translocating across the intestinal wall and potentially triggering inflammatory responses.6
  2. Immunomodulation: Probiotic bacteria can modulate the activities of immune cells, promoting the development of a balanced and robust immune system in.7
  3. Competitive Exclusion: Probiotics can inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria by outcompeting them for nutrients and attachment sites on the intestinal wall.8

The application of probiotics in preventing or managing certain infant health conditions, such as necrotizing enterocolitis, allergies, and certain infections, have been studied, although more comprehensive research is warranted to fully understand their therapeutic potential and establish guidelines for their use.9

In conclusion

The gut microbiome, a complex ecosystem within the body, is a cornerstone of health, affecting everything from digestion to immune functionality. Probiotics, as beneficial facilitators of a balanced gut microbiome, hold promise in supporting the health and well-being of infants. While scientific exploration into the detailed mechanisms and long-term impacts of probiotics on infant health continues, existing knowledge propounds their potential significance in fostering robust immune development during the crucial initial years of life.

References

  1. Neu, J., & Rushing, J. (2011). Cesarean versus vaginal delivery: long-term infant outcomes and the hygiene hypothesis. *Clinics in perinatology, 38*(2), 321-331.
  2. Hill, C., Guarner, F., Reid, G., Gibson, G. R., Merenstein, D. J., Pot, B., … & Calder, P. C. (2014). The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics consensus statement on the scope and appropriate use of the term probiotic. *Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 11*(8), 506-514.
  3. Dominguez-Bello, M. G., Costello, E. K., Contreras, M., Magris, M., Hidalgo, G., Fierer, N., & Knight, R. (2010). Delivery mode shapes the acquisition and structure of the initial microbiota across multiple body habitats in newborns. *Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107*(26), 11971-11975.
  4. Cho, I., & Norman, J. M. (2013). Cesarean section and development of the immune system in the offspring. *American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 208*(4), 249-254.
  5. Gensollen, T., Iyer, S. S., Kasper, D. L., & Blumberg, R. S. (2016). How colonization by microbiota in early life shapes the immune system. *Science, 352*(6285), 539-544.
  6. Bron, P. A., van Baarlen, P., & Kleerebezem, M. (2017). Emerging molecular insights into the interaction between probiotics and the host intestinal mucosa. *Nature Reviews Microbiology, 10*(1), 66-78.
  7. Kalliomäki, M., Salminen, S., Arvilommi, H., Kero, P., Koskinen, P., & Isolauri, E. (2001). Probiotics in primary prevention of atopic disease: a randomised placebo-controlled trial. *The Lancet, 357*(9262), 1076-1079.
  8. Corr, S. C., Li, Y., Riedel, C. U., O’Toole, P. W., Hill, C., & Gahan, C. G. M. (2009). Bacteriocin production as a mechanism for the antiinfective activity of Lactobacillus salivarius UCC118. *Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104*(18), 7617-7621.
  9. Johnson-Henry, K. C., Abrahamsson, T. R., Wu, R. Y., & Sherman, P. M. (2014). Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics for the Prevention of Necrotizing Enterocolitis. *Advances in Nutrition, 5*(5), 545–551.

Probiotics & infant health

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