Pre and probiotics in formula could boost infant immunity

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Infant formula, Gut flora

Pre and probiotics in formula could boost infant immunity
The addition of pre and probiotics to infant formula could help to boost immune responses by colonising newborn babies’ guts with a stable population of beneficial bacteria, say researchers.

Two new studies – both published in the Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition​ – suggest that the addition of prebiotic ingredients to infant formula could help to boost growth of ‘beneficial bacteria’ in the gut whilst the use of probiotics may enhance immunity.

Professor Kelly Tappenden of the University of Illinois, who led both studies, said: "The beneficial bacteria that live in a baby's intestine are all-important to an infant's health, growth, and ability to fight off infections."

"Breast-fed babies acquire this protection naturally. Formula-fed infants get sick more easily because the bacteria in their gut are always changing,"​ added Tappenden.

The idea, she explained, is to make infant formula more like breast milk by promoting growth of intestinal bacteria that are present in the gut of breast-fed babies'.

The researchers said that the infant formula containing prebiotic oligosaccharides “was well tolerated, increased abundance and proportion of bifidobacteria, and reduced fecal pH in healthy infants,”​ whilst the formula containing the probiotic “significantly enhanced immunity"​ – especially in babies delivered by Caesarian section (C-section).

Sterile environment

Tappenden noted the finding that babies delivered by C-section had an especially improved immune response, is important because C-section babies are a more vulnerable group.

"Babies delivered naturally are exposed to the mother's bacteria as they travel through the birth canal, and they develop a healthier population of gut bacteria as a result,”​ said Tappenden.

​[But], babies delivered by C-section enter a sterile environment, and their gut microbiota is quite different,"​ she explained.

Research highlights

In probiotics study, Tappenden and her team made up of researchers from five other institutions, divided 172 healthy six-week-old infants into two formula-fed groups and a breast-fed group.

Beginning at six weeks of age, the formula-fed groups received either a control formula or a formula that contained Bifidobacterium animalis​ subspecies lactis​ (Bb12) for a period of six weeks.

The team found that infants receiving the probiotic formula had increased concentrations of certain immune biomarkers – including secretory, anti-rotavirus, and anti-poliovirus-specific immunoglobulin A (IgA).

In addition to finding increased immune markers, Tappenden said fecal samples from babies receiving the probiotic formula also suggested significantly heightened immunity – especially among the Caesarian-delivered infants.

In the second study, infants who consumed a formula containing the prebiotic also benefited, said Tappenden. She explained that 139 healthy babies were divided into three groups, where breast-fed infants were compared with babies fed either a control formula or a formula supplemented with galacto- and fructo-oligosaccharides for six weeks.

When fecal samples were tested, babies fed the prebiotic formula showed modest improvement in the number of beneficial bacteria and decreases in the types of bacteria that are often associated with illness, she explained.

Study One

Source: Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition
Volume 36, Number 1, Supplement pages 95S-105S, doi: 10.1177/0148607111430087
“Effects of Prebiotic-Containing Infant Formula on Gastrointestinal Tolerance and Fecal Microbiota in a Randomized Controlled Trial”
Authors: H.D. Holscher, K.L. Faust, L.A. Czerkies, R. Litov, E.E. Ziegler, et al

Study Two

Source: Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition
Volume 36, Number 1, Supplement pages 106S-117S, doi: 10.1177/0148607111430817
“Bifidobacterium lactis Bb12 Enhances Intestinal Antibody Response in Formula-Fed Infants: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Controlled Trial”
Authors: H.D. Holscher, L.A. Czerkies, P. Cekola, R. Litov, M. Benbow, et al

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