Early probiotic consumption stops gut problems: study

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Breast milk Breastfeeding Infant Milk

Probiotic bacteria may reduce the occurrence of gut complications
in premature infants, suggests new research with piglets.

Piglets fed infant formula with Bifidobacterium animalis and four Lactobacillus strains had a 20 per cent lower occurrence of necrotising enterocolitis (NEC), a serious gastrointestinal disease that frequently affects premature newborns, compared to piglets fed a standard formula.

Occurrence of NEC was almost 50 per cent less in piglets fed porcine breast milk, compared to piglets fed a standard formula, highlighting that breastfeeding is the best way to ensure an infant receives the nutrients it needs in its first months.

The study, published in the new issue of the Journal of Nutrition , adds to an ever-growing body of research reporting benefits of the inclusion of probiotics or prebiotics in infant formula.

Infant formula is a highly emotive area, with watchdogs keeping a close eye on companies' marketing tactics lest they drift towards promoting their products as preferable to breast feeding.

While it is agreed that breastfeeding is best, formulas are indispensable in cases where mothers are unable to feed their children - be it for health or logistical reasons.

Mothers' desire to give their children the best possible start in life means that there is scope for fortification.

The latest market research on the overall baby food market, including milks and formulas, comes from Mintel, which estimates that the UK market was worth £329 million at retail in 2005.

Research and product development on the ingredient side has centred on replicating the healthy profile of breast milk as far as possible.

New study The study, led by Richard Siggers from the University of Copenhagen, used caesarean-delivered preterm pigs to model premature human babies.

The animals were divided into three groups and fed porcine breast milk, standard formula, or the formula supplemented with B. animalis, L. acidophilus, L. casei, L. pentosus, and L. plantarum (Chr. Hansen).

The researchers found that the occurrence and severity of NEC were reduced when the piglets were fed the probiotic-containing formula.

Indeed, in addition to the 20 per cent reduction in occurrence (from 89 to 69 per cent), a reduction in NEC severity scores, from 3.4 to 2.0 was observed between the animals fed the standard formula and the probiotic formula, respectively.

Only 40 per cent of the breast milk (colostrum) group had NEC, and the severity was 1.7, added Siggers and co-workers.

"This study demonstrates that probiotics administered immediately after delivery can improve intestinal function and health of neonates susceptible to NEC by promoting the early colonization of a beneficial microbiota," wrote the researchers.

"Such effects may be particularly important following caesarean delivery and parenteral nutrition, 2 components that delay the neonatal acquisition of bacteria," they added.

Pigs and humans Siggers and co-workers explained that NEC symptoms in pigs closely resemble those observed in humans, in terms of the clinical and histological characteristics.

"Further, the piglet gastro-intestinal tract clearly has a high degree of anatomical and physiological similarity with the infant gastro-intestinal tract that may make studies involving microbial-associated disease more comparable," they added.

The researchers were affiliated with University of Copenhagen, Technical University of Denmark, Chr.

Hansen, and Aarhus University.

Funding was provided by the Danish Research Council and Chr.

Hansen. Source: Journal of Nutrition Volume 138, Pages 1437-1444 "Early Administration of Probiotics Alters Bacterial Colonization and Limits Diet-Induced Gut Dysfunction and Severity of Necrotizing Enterocolitis in Preterm Pigs" Authors: R.H. Siggers, J. Siggers, M. Boye, T. Thymann, L. Molbak, T. Leser, B.B. Jensen, P.T. Sangild

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