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
"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
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
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.