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Originally published December 1 2008

Probiotics Improve Infant Immune Function

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) A probiotic treatment for pregnant women and their infants was successful in improving the immune function of the newborns, in a study conducted by researchers from Helsinki University Central Hospital in Finland and published in the journal Pediatrics.

"Our results support the idea that probiotics and prebiotics may enhance immune maturation and protect infants against respiratory pathogens," the researchers wrote.

Probiotics are live microorganisms, primarily bacteria, that have beneficial health effects when living in the human body. For example, many bacteria that live in the human gut aid in the process of digestion; other probiotic bacteria are believed to improve immune function. Prebiotics are substances that provide no direct nutrition to the body, but that foster a healthier environment for probiotics. A new field of research is emerging into dosing people with mixtures of probiotics and prebiotics, in a practice known as "symbiotic treatment."

Symbiotic treatment is already being used by some people to treat infant allergies and autoimmune disorders, but the authors of the current study warned that this practice has not been tested for its safety.

The researchers treated pregnant woman with a mix of four probiotic bacteria (Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and LC705, Bifidobacterium breve Bb99 and Propionibacterium freudenreichii ssp shermanii) for the last four weeks of pregnancy, then treated their newborns with the same mixture plus prebiotics called galactooligosaccharides (GOSs) for the first six months of life. GOSs are also found in breast milk.

The infants were examined after 3, 6 and 24 months, and the mothers filled out questionnaires about the children's health at 3, 6, 12 and 24 months. The researchers found that while 28 percent of children in the placebo group had been prescribed antibiotics, only 23 percent of children in the probiotic group had. Likewise, the average number of respiratory infections per child in the placebo group was 4.2, compared with only 3.7 in the probiotic group.

The researchers did not find any difference in growth, infant colic, morbidity or other adverse health effects between the two groups.

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