The prebiotics, which are those substances present in food that stimulate the growth of specific species of bacteria from the microbiome in the gut.
In recent years, there has been a growing number of scientific studies studying the effects and benefits that probiotics can bring to the health of children and adults. There is increasing scientific evidence of the importance of the human microbiota (microorganisms that coexist temporarily or permanently in the tissues of the body) at the metabolic level, or as protection against pathogenic microorganisms with stimulation of the defense system, among the most important effects.
Although until not long ago it was thought that this microbiota began to be acquired the moment the baby was born, now it is known that there are microorganisms in low concentration of the fetus, inside the maternal uterus. Then, during childbirth, there is progressive colonization that is very important for the maturation of the baby’s defense system.
To maintain this human microbiome, the benefit of external administration of live microorganisms in adequate quantities has been studied to achieve a benefit on the health of the organism. And these microorganisms are called probiotics. There is also so-called prebiotics, which are those substances present in food that stimulate the growth of specific species of bacteria from the microbiome in the gut. Products combining both prebiotics and probiotics (called synbiotics) can also be found.
How can probiotics be used to benefit babies?
In the successive studies that are carried out, the relationship between specific microorganisms’ strains and the possible benefit they can provide is established.
Some of these benefits, on which there are more studies, are the ones that contribute to the gastrointestinal level. For example, it is claimed that premature babies may benefit from them to prevent the development of serious pathologies such as necrotizing enterocolitis. A possible positive relationship has also been found for the treatment of infantile colic, diminishing the abdominal pain and with it, the crying of the babies. The biggest source of probiotics for the baby is breast milk. There are also artificial formulas enriched with probiotics that seek to help the baby with artificial lactation to get a suitable microbiota and beneficial for their health.
Widespread use of probiotics (such as some strain of Lactobacillus) is for the treatment of acute gastroenteritis in infants, decreasing the time of diarrhea, the number or characteristics of stools. Also, its use has been established for the prevention of gastroenteritis produced by antibiotic treatment.
On the other hand, another of the most hopeful benefits of its use is that it can favor those children who are diagnosed with a condition of the small intestine with a clear immunological basis such as celiac disease. It has been established as fundamental that babies, after birth, have adequate colonization of the gastrointestinal microbiota in the early stages of life. This fact implies an appropriate development of the body’s immune system or defense system, which can decisively influence the development of an accurate tolerance of this system towards certain food antigens (substances that can be recognized by the defenses as harmful to the body without being so). It is currently being studied what types of bacteria in the microbiota can bring benefits such as the complementary treatment of the gluten-free diet that should be carried by celiac children. For example, it has been seen that some of these bacteria can help metabolize parts of the gluten that are toxic to these patients, which can lead to a decrease in inflammatory alterations that occur in the intestine of these children.
All the above are some examples of the benefits that probiotics can provide as complementary treatments in gastrointestinal pathologies. However, they have also been studied benefits in other organs of the body, because of their important relationship with the body’s defense system.
One of the pathologies that can benefit from its positive effects is atopic dermatitis, a chronic inflammatory dermatological disease with a high prevalence in children, debuting in 60% in the first year of life. The complementary use of probiotics in their treatment (Lactobacillus) has been related to an improvement in the classification of the severity of presentation of this disease, going so far as to establish that the administration of probiotics to babies and even pregnant women may reduce the risk of atopic sensitization of young children.
On the other hand, the relationship between microbiota and obesity is being investigated since its alteration can give rise to anomalous mechanisms of energetic balance in the organism, causing, for example, an increase in the deposit of triglycerides in fat cells (adipocytes). Besides, alterations of the intestinal microbiota have been identified in obese patients with inadequate diets that predispose to an increase in systemic inflammation.
Are there any restrictions on the use of probiotics in children?
All compounds used as probiotics follow strict regulations to use them as such. These are compounds of living microorganisms but even so, the risk of infection produced by them has been stipulated as a minimum, even in patients with low defenses (immunosuppressed). However, there is a clear indication for caution in its use in premature patients and certain immunocompromised patients. It is advisable to always consult your pediatrician and follow his or her advice.