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Boosting immunity from baby to beyond

In the quest to better protect themselves against colds and flu, consumers are learning that a strong immune system begins with a healthy gut – and the making of good gut health begins at birth.

With 2020 bringing the world a sweeping pandemic in the form of COVID-19, there’s perhaps never been such a widespread focus on the importance of a healthy immune system and the ways in which to support it.

Consumers have long had an interest in maintaining strong immunity. Last year saw a strong increase in online searches for “immunity”, but these numbers tripled within the first two months of the COVID-19 outbreak.1

The pandemic had a huge impact on parents’ appetites for solutions and products which could provide enhanced protection for the entire family. More than 65% of Chinese parents, for example, are concerned about low immunity,2​ with 59% saying they’d feel encouraged to buy food and drink products that can help improve their child’s immunity.3​ It’s a priority that’s likely to remain in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, too.

While probiotics are already recognised as a simple, effective way to help support a strong immune system, awareness around the specific benefits of particular probiotic strains is now on the rise.

NZMP, the global ingredients brand of Fonterra, has two clinically tested probiotic strains for infants – Bifidobacterium animalis ​subspecies lactis​ HN019 (marketed as SureStart BifidoB HN019) and Lacticaseibacillus rhamnosus​ HN001 (marketed as SureStart LactoB HN001)*. These strains have shown a long history of stability and safety.

SureStart BifidoB HN019 ​has been clinically tested to deliver a range of immune health benefits. Researched and developed over many years, it’s been shown to help reduce the risk of viral infections such as colds and flu in infants.4​ The strain’s benefits for immune function are also effective in helping to combat other common infectious diseases, beginning from childhood.

The immune system and probiotics

The immune system is key to good health across our entire lifespan and is critical to maintaining the overall healthy functioning of our bodies – with a considerable proportion of the immune system’s white blood cells located in the gut.5

Trillions of microorganisms (including gut bacteria) living inside the digestive system are known as gut microbiota. In infants, gut microbiota plays a central role in the regulation and maturation of their immune system.​This maturation and ongoing maintenance of an optimal intestinal microbiota is vital for a healthy immune function and protection against pathogens.6,7

NZMP White Paper “The Probiotic Effect​” delves into the importance of the microbiota in relation to immune system development during the first years’ of life. Exposure to several factors, including mode of birth, diet, environment and use of antibiotics and other drugs contributes to the diversity and establishment of an infant’s microbiome.8​ By the end of the first two to five years of life, microbial diversity and composition broadly resembles that of the adult gut microbiota.9

A healthy microbiome that promotes a strong immune system has many benefits. These include reducing the risk of infections, including colds and flu, and immune disorders such as allergies. 4,6​ It also helps to reduce inflammation and may even play a role in healthy brain development.10,11,12

To that end, evidence also suggests that low diversity gut microbiota is associated with poorer health outcomes.13​ Therefore, establishing and developing a balanced gut microflora in infancy is an important first step in ongoing immune development.

Early life nutrition is an important factor in shaping the microbiota. Human milk is the ideal nutrition for infants, however in some cases breastfeeding is not possible. In these situations, parents may want a paediatric nutrition solution which may help to support their baby’s immune system. Probiotic bifidobacteria and lactobacilli are often used in infant formula. NZMP SureStart strains are proven to help modulate the gut microbiota and help to protect against a range of infections.14–16 ​  

SureStart BifidoB HN019 is a well-characterised and safe probiotic strain with extensively documented probiotic effects, especially in the area of gut microbial health, protection against infection, and immune modulation. It’s a naturally occurring bacteria and was originally isolated from fermented milk.

Dietary SureStart BifidoB HN019 has been shown to survive the acidic environment of the human stomach to reach the gut in a live state.17–19​ NZMP’s White Paper “Stimulating the Body’s Defences​” details further studies demonstrating its effectiveness in helping to protect against several common childhood illnesses and improve resistance to viral infections such as colds and flu, as well as its role in supporting the immune system throughout life.

The opportunity is now

It’s clear that a healthy immune system is something that can be influenced at all stages of life. With the heightened awareness on immunity and protecting against colds and flu, it’s a great time for consumers to begin new lifelong healthy habits for both themselves and their families.

More information about immunity and the benefits of probiotics like SureStart BifidoB HN019​ can be found in the following NZMP White Papers​.

Product specific information, including the clinically tested health benefits and shelf life stability of SureStart™ BifidoB HN019™, can be found at the following NZMP product page​.

* Due to recent changes in the way lactobacilli are named, Lactobacillus rhamnosus​ HN001 is now called Lacticaseibacillus rhamnosus​ HN001, but either name refers to the same probiotic LactoB HN001 strain.

1.           Google. Using Google trends data to find consumer interest in the word “Immunity.”

2.           Mintel. Baby Food & Milk. May 2020.

3.           Mintel. Defend against disease with immunity-boosting products. September 2019.

4.           Dekker J, Xu L, Hong Q, Xiaoyang S. Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis HN019 protects against respiratory tract infections in Chinese infants. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr​. 2017;64(Supplement 1):760.

5.           Thursby E, Juge N. Introduction to the human gut microbiota. Biochem J​. 2017;474(11):1823-1836. doi:10.1042/BCJ20160510

6.           Zhuang L, Chen H, Zhang S, Zhuang J, Li Q, Feng Z. Intestinal microbiota in early life and its implications on childhood health. Genomics, Proteomics Bioinforma​. 2019;17(1):13-25. doi:10.1016/j.gpb.2018.10.002

7.           Belkaid Y, Hand TW. Role of the microbiota in immunity and inflammation. Cell​. 2014;157(1):121-141. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2014.03.011

8.           McBurney MI, Davis C, Fraser CM, et al. Establishing what constitutes a healthy human gut microbiome: State of the science, regulatory considerations, and future directions. J Nutr​. 2019;149(11):1882-1895. doi:10.1093/jn/nxz154

9.           Rodríguez JM, Murphy K, Stanton C, et al. The composition of the gut microbiota throughout life, with an emphasis on early life. Microb Ecol Heal Dis​. 2015;26(0). doi:10.3402/mehd.v26.26050

10.         Lobionda S, Sittipo P, Kwon HY, Lee YK. The role of gut microbiota in intestinal inflammation with respect to diet and extrinsic stressors. Microorganisms​. 2019;7(8). doi:10.3390/microorganisms7080271

11.         Ihekweazu FD, Versalovic J. Development of the pediatric gut microbiome: impact on health and disease. Am J Med Sci​. 2018;356(5):413-423. doi:10.1016/j.amjms.2018.08.005

12.         Martin CR, Osadchiy V, Kalani A, Mayer EA. The Brain-Gut-Microbiome Axis. CMGH​. 2018;6(2):133-148. doi:10.1016/j.jcmgh.2018.04.003

13.         Tanaka M, Nakayama J. Development of the gut microbiota in infancy and its impact on health in later life. Allergol Int​. 2017;66(4):515-522. doi:10.1016/j.alit.2017.07.010

14.         Dekker JW, Wickens K, Black PN, et al. Safety aspects of probiotic bacterial strains Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 and Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis HN019 in human infants aged 0-2 years. Int Dairy J​. 2009;19(3):149-154. doi:10.1016/j.idairyj.2008.10.004

15.         Wickens K, Black PN, Stanley T V., et al. A differential effect of 2 probiotics in the prevention of eczema and atopy: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. J Allergy Clin Immunol​. 2008;122(4):788-794. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2008.07.011

16.         Oswari H, Prayitno L, Dwipoerwantoro PG, et al. Comparison of stool microbiota compositions, stool alpha1-antitrypsin and calprotectin concentrations, and diarrhoeal morbidity of Indonesian infants fed breast milk or probiotic/prebiotic-supplemented formula. J Paediatr Child Health​. 2013;49(12):1032-1039. doi:10.1111/jpc.12307

17.         Murphy K, Curley D, O’callaghan TF, et al. The composition of human milk and infant faecal microbiota over the first three months of life: A pilot study. Sci Rep​. 2017;7. doi:10.1038/srep40597

18.         Gopal PK, Prasad J, Gill HS. Effects of the consumption of Bifidobacterium lactis HN019 (DR10TM​) and galacto-oligosaccharides on the microflora of the gastrointestinal tract in human subjects. Nutr Res​. 2003;23(10):1313-1328. doi:10.1016/S0271-5317(03)00134-9

19.         Sanders ME. Summary of probiotic activities of Bifidobacterium lactis HN019. J Clin Gastroenterol​. 2006;40(9):776-783. doi:10.1097/01.mcg.0000225576.73385.f0