Global Experts Cite Emerging Health Benefits of Probiotics

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Probiotics, the "good" bacteria widely recognized for their positive impact on digestive health, may have broader benefits in special populations, according to new research presented at the Third International Convention on Probiotics in Paris, France, sponsored by Danone Vitapole. More than 125 physicians, researchers

and scientists from 30 nations attended the convention Dec. 2-3, 2004.

   

The convention's findings build on decades of research focused on

understanding the health benefits of probiotics, including improving bodily

functions, such as digestion; strengthening the protective barrier of the

intestinal lining; and impacting regulation of critical components of the

immune system.

   

"The benefits of probiotics have been known since ancient times and have

been part of European culture for many years," noted Dr. Allan Walker,

director of the Division of Nutrition at Harvard Medical School in Boston. "We

are now exploring the broader implications probiotics may have on improving

the health and wellness of both adults and children."

 

Dr. Yuichiro Yamashiro, professor of pediatrics, Juntendo University

School of Medicine in Tokyo, Japan, reviewed the results of his school's four-

year study exploring the effects of probiotics on the immune system of

newborns.

   

Yamashiro and his team conducted an historical and randomized

controlled study of infants of low birth weight (approximately 1 kilogram)

from premature births (on average, born at 7 months), who are more prone to

infection and death than infants of normal birth weight. The study examined

the effects of the probiotic, Bifidobacterium breve (B. breve) on infection

and necrotizing enterocolitis, a serious complication that is a major cause of

death among infants.

   

The study showed that the administration of probiotics to preterm babies

who presented an immune deficit had a positive effect. Infection developed in

only 23.1 percent of the B. breve group, compared to 37 percent of the control

group. The number of deaths among the infected infants was zero in the B.

breve group, compared to 12.1 percent in the control group. In addition, the

study demonstrated beneficial effects of probiotics, such as improved feeding

and faster weight gain.

 

Walker shared insights into how modern American societal factors can

contribute to children developing a susceptibility to infections and allergies

very early in life -- and how probiotics may help safely and naturally

modulate their immune systems.

   

"In newborn babies, the digestive tract is sterile, and is colonized

progressively by maternal flora and the external environment. This exposure to

bacteria plays an important role in the development and maturation of the

immune system," Walker explained. "However, Americans' emphasis on disease

prevention through, for example, the use of anti-bacterial products, has led

to an aseptic environment in which infants and children are not gaining

exposure to a natural complement of bacteria. As a result, this has led to

increases in infections and allergies later in life."

    

Walker also discussed a study of the probiotic strain, Lactobacillus

casei, on the incidence and severity of diarrhea among children who attend day

care centers, a setting which favors the occurrence and rapid spread of viral

digestive infections, such as Rotavirus. Over a period of four to six months,

a group of healthy children received fermented milk fortified with the

probiotic; a control group received yogurt with no probiotic. The incidence of

diarrhea was significantly reduced in the group receiving probiotics (5.9

percent for the probiotic group vs. 22 percent for the control group).

 

Dr. Philippe Marteau, gastroenterologist at Georges Pompidou European

Hospital in Paris, France, reported promising new developments. Helicobacter

pylori, a microorganism which leads to gastritis and sometimes severe diseases

of the duodenum (ulcers) or stomach (ulcers and neoplasms), is usually

difficult to eradicate, and requires complicated treatments with multiple

antibiotics and a proton pump inhibitor. Recent randomized controlled trials

have suggested that some probiotics may help modulate the number of H. pylori

in the gut, consequently reducing gastric inflammation and soothing ulcers and

gastritis.

   

Microorganisms in the stomach or gastrointestinal tract may also play a

role in causing nosocomial infections, a frequent post-surgery complication.

Randomized controlled trials have shown some positive effects of probiotics on

the micro-organisms causing these serious infections.

   

"Although the Third Annual Probiotics Convention was focused on clinical

research," added Walker, "it's important to note that regular consumption

of probiotics can also benefit healthy people by improving bodily functions,

such as regularity, detoxification, immune function and digestion."

 

Literally meaning "good for life," probiotics are beneficial bacteria that

can help impact the balance of bacteria in the digestive tract, where about 70

percent of the body's immune system is located.  As a natural component of

cultured milk products, probiotics have been around for thousands of years,

but they first came under the modern microscope in the early 20th century,

when Nobel prize winning scientist Eli Metchnikoff discovered a possible

correlation between Bulgarians' renowned longevity and their regular

consumption of yogurt. 

 

Source: The Dannon Company Inc.

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