Probiotics in Early Life

I think the term probiotics is a good name for the beneficial microbes that inhabit the intestinal tract of human beings. Probiotics literally means “for life.” There are many ways in which probiotics function “for life,” for without them we would be seriously ill and succumb to many different diseases.

Modern science, on an almost daily basis, is discovering just how helpful our beneficial microflora (probiotics) can be. Beneficial microflora include mainly bacteria, but also some fungi or yeasts, even some parasites, and possibly viruses in certain cases. We do know that we have over 1000 species of bacteria, and over 100 trillion microorganisms of various types living inside of us. At the present time we do not know the exact percentage of beneficial microflora (or probiotics) living within us at any given time, but we do know it is wise to regularly replace the probiotic species.

Lack of beneficial bacteria in newborn children creates a situation that can range from overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria and fungi at one end of the spectrum, to immune deficiency at the other end (probiotics literally help develop our immunity). It is well known that newborn children do not have fully competent immune systems at birth and for several months thereafter. However, some children are less immune responsive than others in the first year of life. This is a big issue because it is also well known that many children receiving vaccines in the first year of life are unable to respond appropriately and benefit from the vaccines. This results in either no or low antibody levels (or titres) to the vaccine in the blood, which is easily measurable. In addition, it is well accepted that there can be side effects ranging from minor to quite significant in response to an immature immune system receiving a given vaccine.

So here is the good news. A recent double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed that newborns that were given probiotics versus the placebo had better antibody titers to their vaccine (meaning the vaccine worked), and also had fewer side effects than the placebo group.1 Though this is a small study that was only slightly statistically significant, it certainly points the way toward more liberal use of probiotics, either as supplements or cultured drinks and foods—both for mom during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and for the newborn child.

Another important health tip for pregnant ladies: consider getting a vaginal culture a few weeks before delivery. If you are low in the beneficial vaginal microflora, start supplementing so that if you are fortunate enough to have a vaginal delivery, you will inoculate your baby during the birthing process. What’s more, it is during breastfeeding that the baby naturally receives the bifidobacteria that are so important for colon health. For those who have a C-section and/or don’t breast feed, it is even more critical to supplement with probiotics. In my opinion, I think everyone should take probiotics on a regular basis.

I. Youngster, et al., “Probiotics and the immunological response to infant vaccinations: a prospective, placebo controlled pilot study.” Arch Dis Child. 2011 Jan 24.

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