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Dec 1, 2011

Probiotics May Protect Against Respiratory Illness in Infants

Beneficial flora (aka the “good bacteria”) play an important role in keeping our immune systems healthy.

Beneficial flora (aka the “good bacteria”) play an important role in keeping our immune systems healthy. Finnish researchers from the University of Turku recently found that probiotics given to babies during their first months of life appeared to be protective against respiratory illnesses.  Compared with the control group, infants whose daily diets included the probiotic species known as Bifidobacterium animalis (subspecies BB-12) experienced a 30 percent reduction in respiratory infections.  

Over a period of eight months, 109 infants were divided into two groups and monitored.  At the beginning of the trial period, all participants were about one month old.  Infants in the first group received a probiotic twice per day while infants in the second group received placebo.  Although the researchers did not note significant differences between the groups in overall gastrointestinal health, they did observe differences when it came to respiratory health. 

The researchers involved in this study admit their findings are only preliminary and that additional research is needed before any definitive conclusions can be made.  Still, they are confident that the results of this study will help contribute to new preventative treatment options for respiratory infections and other types of childhood illnesses. 

Although many probiotic products available today have fairly good safety records and have little or no side effects in most people, there are large differences when it comes to quality, purity, and effectiveness.  Some probiotics are well-researched and documented in the medical literature, while others are not.  For your child’s health and safety, it’s important to do the necessary research and talk to your trusted healthcare practitioner prior to use of a particular product. 

Studies like the one briefly mentioned above can serve to remind us of the important role that breastfeeding can play in the normal and healthy development of children.  There are many strains of beneficial flora that have evolved with the human body, some of which are known to be passed from mother to child in the form of breast milk.  Breastfeeding alone can be an important way of making sure infants receive the protective flora that will help them develop into healthy adults.  Of course, this requires that breastfeeding mothers have optimal levels of their own beneficial flora!  This can be achieved through healthy diet and lifestyle choices as well as appropriate probiotic supplementation if needed.     

Dr. Shana McQueen