Prebiotics in formula may cut infant infections

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Respiratory tract infections, Breastfeeding

Inclusion of prebiotic fibres in infant formula may cut the
recurrence of infection during the first six-months of life by
about 10 per cent, suggests new research.

Healthy term infants fed formula containing short chain galactooligosaccharides and long chain fructooligosaccharides (scGOS/lcFOS) also had a 6.5 per cent lower incidence of recurring respiratory infections than placebo-fed infants, according to a prospective, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial The study, published in the new issue of the Journal of Nutrition​, adds to an ever-growing body of research reporting benefits fo the inclusion of prebiotics or probiotics 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 the best way to ensure an infant receives the nutrients it needs in its first months, 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. Researchers from Macedonio Melloni Hospital (Milan), Erasmus University (Rotterdam), and Numico Research (Germany) assigned the infants to receive either a daily prebiotic-supplemented formula (eight grams per litre of scGOS/lcFOS), or maltodextrin-supplemented formula to act as placebo (eight grams per litre maltodextrin) for the first six months of life. Lead author on the study Sertac Arslanoglu reports that infants in the prebiotic-supplemented group tended to have less infections than infants in the placebo group, including fewer upper respiratory tract infections and fewer infections that required treatment with antibiotics. Indeed, the incidence of any recurring infection was reduced by 9.6 per cent, while the incidence of recurring respiratory infection was cut by 6.7 per cent. "Oligosaccharide prebiotics reduced the number of infectious episodes and the incidence of recurring, particularly respiratory, infections during the first six months of life,"​ stated the researchers. Arslanoglu and co-workers added that, while the exact mechanism of action is not known currently, the immune modulating effect of the prebiotic mixture via modification of intestinal microflora was the most likely option. The potential benefits of prebiotics, with or without probiotics, for infant health have gained increasing attention. Indeed, a study by researchers from Nestlé recently claimed to be the first to provide data on the combination of pro- and prebiotics in infant formula, and could help define the direction of the 'next generation' formulas. This study, published in Nutrition​ (Vol. 23, pp. 1-8), reported that the symbiotic formula was associated with fewer incidences of constipation with stool characteristics that suggested good tolerability. Moreover, the results reported that symbiotic formula-fed infants showed a trend toward fewer respiratory tract infections. Source: Journal of Nutrition​ November 2007, Volume 137, Pages 2420-2424 "Early Supplementation of Prebiotic Oligosaccharides Protects Formula-Fed Infants against Infections during the First 6 Months of Life" ​Authors: Sertac Arslanoglu, G.E. Moro and G. Boehm

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