Probiotics have been defined as living microorganisms, which upon ingestion in certain numbers have beneficial effects on human health beyond inherent general nutrition (1).
These effects are attributed to the restoration of increased intestinal permeability and unbalanced gut microflora, improvement of the intestine's immunological barrier functions and alleviation of the intestinal inflammatory response.
The application of probiotics in paediatric practice (the branch of medicine that deals with the medical care of infants, children, and adolescents) currently lies in enhancing these barrier functions in the gut and reducing the risk of diseases associated with their dysfunction.
Several studies have been carried out using probiotic bacteria (such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria) in shortening the duration of rotavirus diarrhoea and reducing irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.
It has been also demonstrated that supplementing with Bifidobacterium animalis BB-12 or Lactobacillus GG modifies the allergic inflammation in infants with atopic eczema.
Now researchers led by Gregory J. Leyer have found that probiotics given preventively over the winter months reduce the incidence and duration of fever, cough, and runny noses in children (2).
The researchers assessed 326 healthy children ages 3 to 5 in a group childcare center in Jinhua City, China. They were randomly assigned to twice-daily doses of L. acidophilus or L. acidophilus in combination with Bifidobacterium animalis for six months from November 2005 to May 2006.
A third group was assigned to placebo, and a total of 248 youngsters completed the trial.
The researchers found that while both single- and combination-strain products reduced the incidence of fever, cough, and rhinorrhoea, the effect was more profound with the combination product.
The more profound effect with the combination product may have resulted from the fact that bifidobacteria decrease adherence of certain respiratory viruses to the tissues that lined the surface of the mouth.
Antibiotic use was also reduced compared with placebo, by 68.4% for the single-strain dose (P=0.0002) and by 84.2% for the combination product (P less than 0.0001).
Reducing the need for antibiotic use early in life may have important benefits (e.g., reduced adverse reactions, costs, and risk for antimicrobial resistance development).
There were also significant reductions in days absent from childcare.
The researchers also noted that the incidence of vomiting and diarrhea were low during the study period.
Probiotics may reduce respiratory symptoms and antibiotic use via an immune-enhancing effect, the researchers said, since previous studies have shown an ability of the bacteria to modulate immune responses through interactions with toll-like receptors.
Nayil Dinkçi, Gülfem Ünal, Sibel Akalin and Siddik Gönç. The Importance of Probiotics in Pediatrics. Pakistan Journal of Nutrition 5 (6): 608-611, 2006Leyer GJ, Li S, Mubasher ME, Reifer C, Ouwehand AC. Probiotic Effects on Cold and Influenza-Like Symptom Incidence and Duration in Children. Pediatrics 124(2):e172-e179, 2009. Full Text
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