Past studies have suggested that consuming probiotics on a daily basis can benefit our digestive health. And these benefits may also apply to infants, as a new study suggests that giving probiotics to children in their first 3 months of life may reduce their risk of developing gastrointestinal disorders.
The research team from the Aldo Moro University of Baro in Italy, led by Dr. Flavia Indrio, says that probiotic use in infants may also lead to lower health costs associated with gastrointestinal disorders.
Their findings were published in JAMA Pediatrics.
During the first 6 months of a child's life, infant colic, acid reflux and constipation are the most common gastrointestinal disorders that lead to pediatrician referral, according to the investigators.
They add that these disorders can result in hospitalization, use of medication, changes in food intake, parental anxiety and loss of parental working days.
The investigators wanted to see whether regular intake of a probiotic supplement may reduce the occurrence of these gastrointestinal disorders.
Probiotics are microorganisms that are believed to play an important role in regulating intestinal function and digestion by balancing the microflora of the gut.
Some foods, such as yogurt, aged cheeses, miso and some soy beverages, contain natural probiotics, or they can be consumed in the form of supplements.
Infants randomized to probiotic supplement or placebo
For their study, the research team analyzed 554 newborn children who were less than 1 week old. All children were born at nine different neonatal units in Italy between September 2010 and October 2012.
The infants were all randomized to receive either a probiotic supplement containing Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938 bacteria, or a placebo supplement each day for a period of 90 days. The children were followed for 3 months.
Parents were required to keep a diary of the frequency of their child's vomiting, the emptying of their bowels, the duration of inconsolable crying and the number of doctor visits.
Any changes in daily crying time, vomiting, constipation and the cost benefits of probiotic supplement use were measured during the study period.
Probiotic use 'saves money and increases child health'
At 3 months, the researchers found that the children who received the probiotic supplement emptied their bowels more each day, compared with the placebo group - at 4.2 times versus 3.6 times.
The infants who had the probiotic also had a lower average vomiting and crying rate each day, compared with the placebo group, at 38 minutes versus 71 minutes and 2.9 times versus 4.6 times, respectively.
Furthermore, probiotic use was associated with an average saving of $119 per patient in each family.
The researchers note that probiotic use did not cause any adverse effects in the infants.
Commenting on their study, the researchers say their findings suggest that probiotic use early in an infant's life may reduce the risk of gastrointestinal disorders:
"Driving a change of colonization during the first weeks of life through giving lactobacilli may promote an improvement in intestinal permeability; visceral sensitivity and mast cell density and probiotic administration may represent a new strategy for preventing these conditions, at least in predisposed children."
The investigators note that since early life gastrointestinal disorders present a large morbidity burden and socioeconomic impact, further research is "urgently" needed to validate their results and create suitable interventions.
In a comment linked to the study, Dr. Bruno P. Chumpitazi and Dr. Robert Shulman, of the Baylor College of Medicine at Texas Children's Hospital, note that although there have been no adverse effects reported from infant probiotic use so far, further studies are needed to determine its safety.
"Given the potential role of the gut microbiome in a number of disorders (eg, obesity) and its ability to influence brain function as already outlined, their clinical use should be guided by well-done clinical studies," they add.
"Ideally, participants should be re-examined several years after treatment to assess for potential long-term health consequences."
Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that, contrary to popular belief, probiotics do not treat diarrhea.