Probiotic research points to possible benefits among the very young and old

Articles
November 11, 2008

Probiotic research points to possible benefits among the very young and old

Scientists are starting to harness benefits of specific probiotics strains to improve health in children and the elderly, and to help treat conditions such as IBD (inflammatory bowel disease). Though probiotics have already provided marketing lift at the dairy shelf, the discovery of more targeted uses to enhance health could quicken the spread of probiotics to more categories. Such scientific research was presented at the recent American College of Nutrition annual meeting in a symposium, “Practical Applications of Probiotics in Health and Disease.” About 70% of the body’s immune system is located in the digestive tract. “Infants don’t have all of their gut bacteria at birth as they acquire it up until about two years of age. Probiotics are ‘good’ bacteria, which can promote healthy colonization of bacteria in the gut during this time, leading to enhanced immunity,” said Dr. Allan Walker, Professor of Nutrition and Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, who led a panel on probiotics in pediatrics.

Scientists are starting to harness benefits of specific probiotics strains to improve health in children and the elderly, and to help treat conditions such as IBD (inflammatory bowel disease).

Though probiotics have already provided marketing lift at the dairy shelf, the discovery of more targeted uses to enhance health could quicken the spread of probiotics to more categories. Such scientific research was presented at the recent American College of Nutrition annual meeting in a symposium, “Practical Applications of Probiotics in Health and Disease.”
 
About 70% of the body’s immune system is located in the digestive tract. “Infants don’t have all of their gut bacteria at birth as they acquire it up until about two years of age. Probiotics are ‘good’ bacteria, which can promote healthy colonization of bacteria in the gut during this time, leading to enhanced immunity,” said Dr. Allan Walker, Professor of Nutrition and Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, who led a panel on probiotics in pediatrics.

One study showed a decreased incidence of common infectious diseases among kids in day care, noted Dr. Mary Ellen Sander, a consultant on probiotics. Each individual strain of probiotic can act differently, so a probiotic that helps with digestion may differ from one that supports the immune system, she noted. 

Since immune function weakens as we age, “taking in certain probiotics on a  regular basis might positively change the bacterial populations in the gut in older people,” added Dr. Simin Meydani, Associate Director of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.

Meanwhile, IBD afflicts approximately 1 million adults and 150,000 children in the U.S., according to Dr. Stefano Guandalini, Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, who said “emerging studies are showing promise in children, and will continue to help determine how we can use probiotics practically.”

Separate research was presented at the 73rd Annual Scientific Meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology, which showed patients with IBD face greater risk of developing Vitamin D deficiencies and require more regular monitoring of the vitamin’s levels in the body.