Review links prebiotics with reduction in acute infection risk in children

By Sarah Hills

- Last updated on GMT

Scientists say greater research is needed into effects of prebiotics of children over two years old.
Scientists say greater research is needed into effects of prebiotics of children over two years old.
Prebiotics may help reduce the risk of serious infections in children under two years but more research is required, according to meta-analysis.

The review, published in Nutrition Reviews​, assessed the role of prebiotics in the prevention of acute infectious diseases in healthy children – in particular acute respiratory tract infections and gastroenteritis. 

The review concluded that the evidence “suggests the preventive use of prebiotics decreases the rate of infections requiring antibiotic therapy in infants and children aged 0–24 months”.

The available studies also indicate that prebiotics may be effective in decreasing the rate of overall infections in this age group.

However, the number of available studies was limited, according to the researchers. Only five randomized controlled trials (RCT) were included in the review, while relevant studies in those aged 2–18 years were “completely lacking”​.

The authors noted that “based on the promising results seen in the age group 0–2 years, it would be worth conducting such studies in older children as well, especially since children newly entering a community (day nurseries, kindergartens, elementary schools) are acutely exposed to infections".

Possible benefits

The review said that development of effective preventive strategies is needed to reduce the incidence of acute respiratory and gastro-intestinal infections in children, which could decrease health expenses therefore benefiting individuals and society.

Previous systematic reviews summarised the role of prebiotics by evaluating their efficacy in the prevention of allergy and atopic dermatitis or eczema and in the therapy of irritable bowel syndrome, the researchers said. 

Recently, probiotics were also described to be useful in reducing the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections and diarrhea. However, with probiotic supplementation, billions of living probiotic bacteria must be administered daily to ensure the continuous colonisation of the intestine and achieve the desired health benefits, they wrote. 

The review said that supplementation with prebiotics, which promote the growth of good bacteria (probiotics), may be an alternative and easier way to achieve the same positive health effects usually ascribed to supplementation with probiotics. Prebiotics are selectively fermented dietary ingredients that promote specific beneficial changes in the composition and/or activity of the gastrointestinal microbiota.

Study criteria

The review included studies with the supplements oligosaccharides, galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), fructans, inulin, or oligofructose only. 

Source: Nutrition Reviews

 doi: 10.1111/nure.12117

“Prebiotics in healthy infants and children for prevention of acute infectious diseases: a systematic review and meta-analysis.”

Authors: S. Lohner, D. Küllenberg, G, Antes, T. Decsi, and J. J. Meerpohl 

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