Probiotics for mothers may boost infant immunity

Related tags Probiotic bacteria Immune system

Mothers taking probiotic supplements appear to have higher levels
of an anti-inflammatory molecule in their breast milk, which could
offer their babies better protection against allergy and other
diseases, according to new findings.

The results come from a major trial investigating whether the probiotic bacteria Reuteri can prevent children from developing allergies.

Launched in 2001, researchers from Reuteri developer BioGaia​ and Sweden's Karolinska Institute are following around 200 mothers and their infants. Half of the mothers received Reuteri supplements for four weeks prior to birth of their babies and these babies then receive the probiotics during the first year of life.

An analysis of breast milk taken from the mothers in the supplement group a couple of days after giving birth found increased levels of the anti-inflammatory cytokine (cell signal substance) IL-10 and reduced levels of TGF-beta-2.

These findings are consistent with less inflammation in the breast of mothers taking Reuteri, said the company, and also suggest that there will be a higher supply of the key cytokine IL-10 to the infant.

The cytokine IL-10 is very central to regulation of the immune system and has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, noted Eamonn Connolly, director of research at BioGaia.

"To find this increase in the mothers' milk after a relatively short period of supplementation is very exciting,"​ he told "We know that IL-10 survives the passage through the infant's digestive system."

The next stage of the study is to look at the clinical relevance of these higher cytokine levels by examining infant health, he said.

It is hoped that full results of the study, expected in the third quarter of 2005, will support a direct effect of probiotic supplements on a child's immunity, opening up new opportunities for the use of probiotic bacteria in products targeting expecting and nursing mothers.

BioGaia has invested around SK15 million (E1.64m) in research on allergies, receiving funding for half of its costs from the Swedish Industrial Development Fund (Industrifonden).

The company has applied for an international patent to cover the new findings.

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