What is prebiotic nutrition and how can it benefit a child? Express Parenting got in touch with professor Johan Garssen, head of Pharmacology and expert in immunopharmacology, Utrecht University, Netherlands, to know all about it.
How do prebiotic fibres in human milk help build immunity?
It is a lesser known fact that gut is the largest immune organ. About 60-70 per cent of the immune cells of the body are located in the gut. Different bacteria present in the gut are important controllers of the gut immune system and in this way indirectly the whole immune system. Prebiotic oligosaccharides found in breast milk act as food for the good bacteria (probiotics) thereby helping with their growth and proper functioning of the immune system. Increase in the number and activity of these good bacteria helps decrease the growth of pathogens in the baby’s gut and protects them from various illnesses such as infections. Prebiotics also boosts immunity by binding to the infectious (bad) bacteria and killing them. Further, they also help create a balance in the inflammatory responses thereby preventing allergy but also other inflammation related diseases such as eczema and asthma.
How does prebiotic fibre function in the human body?
Prebiotics are dietary ingredients that reach the gut in an undigested form. In the gut, prebiotic fibres act as food for the good bacteria. The good/beneficial bacteria in the gut ferments these fibres to produce compounds that serve several health benefits such as boosting immunity in infants, reduction in incidence of infections that require antibiotics, softer stools, reduced constipation and reduction in the incidence and severity of allergies (food allergy, skin allergy and even respiratory allergies).
How can prebiotics help infants, especially those who do not have access to human milk?
A strong immune system is your body’s defence against various illnesses and diseases and can go a long way in keeping you healthy. The programming of this begins early when the baby is yet to be born. The first two years of an infant’s life is the most crucial period in the development of a healthy immune system. During this period, breast milk is the sole source of nutrition and contains components which supports the development, maturity and training of a healthy resilient immune system. Prebiotic Oligosaccharides also known as Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMO) is the largest group of components of breast milk, which supports Immune System Development. There have been almost 1000 oligosaccharide structures which have been found in breast milk out of which only 164 have been identified and described with respect to their function and molecular structure.
Over the years, formula makers have been trying to mimic the beneficial effects of prebiotic oligosaccharides present in breast milk. Clinical trials on this unique blend of scGOS & lcFOS (Short Chain Galacto-oligosaccharides and Long Chain Fructo-oligosaccharides), which mimic more than 100 different oligosaccharide structures present in breast milk, have demonstrated reduced incidence of diarrhea, common cold, cough, otitis media and allergy, etc, as compared to formula without prebiotics. It was also seen that feeding formula with scGOS & lcFOS over standard formula resulted into softer stools and gut microbiota similar to those of breastfed infants. scGOS & lcFOS supplementation also reduces the usage of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs such as corticoids in infants.
What are the benefits of oligosaccharides on gut health in infants?
The biggest benefit of these prebiotic oligosaccharides in breast milk is their role in boosting immunity. These oligosaccharides act as food for the good bacteria already present in the gut of the baby. Increase in the good bacteria leads to decrease in the number of illness causing bacteria thus improving gut health and immunity. Apart from this they also prevent constipation in babies by regulating their bowel movement resulting into soft stools.
GOS:FOS in 9:1 ratio mimics this function of human milk prebiotic oligosaccharides, thereby benefitting babies who are unable to get mother’s milk.
Does consuming prebiotic formula milk lead to any side-effects in infants?
Mother’s milk is best for infants, but if a mother is unable to breastfeed her baby, formula milk with added prebiotics could be considered. The special mixture of GOS:FOS in 9:1 ratio is the most researched prebiotic for infants. There are over 30 clinical trials & more than 55 publications in renowned international journals showing its safety in infants. Further, this ingredient has received a safe status for its use not only in normal infants born at term (completion of 9 months) but also for infants born preterm by USFDA and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Globally, formula with prebiotic GOS:FOS has been used for more than 20 years now.
Are there any prebiotic rich food available in India?
Prebiotic foods contain special type of fibre that help with the digestive health. Prebiotic fibres are present in most foods that we consume on day to day basis. Some example of prebiotic foods are garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, banana, barley, oats, apple and flax seeds. However for infants who have not started with complementary foods, breast milk is the best natural source of these prebiotic fibres.
Can you throw some light on understanding the role of prebiotic fibre in human body and how it is different from probiotic fibre?
The word prebiotic is often confused with probiotics. It is important to know the difference. Probiotics are live microorganisms such as lactobacilli, Bifidobacterium, etc, found in the gut of an individual, while prebiotics are non-digestible food components that promote the growth of helpful bacteria (probiotics) in the gut. In other words, prebiotics act as food for probiotics. While probiotics are beneficial in certain cases, the type and count of probiotic bacteria needs to be carefully chosen since these are live microorganisms entering the body. If the type of live organism does not suit the baby, it may trigger an unwanted immune response. This can be overcome by the use of prebiotics as these supports the growth of healthy microorganisms already present in the baby’s gut.
How can working Indian mothers fulfil the need of prebiotics post joining work?What are the ways to include prebiotics in a child’s diet?
If the baby has been initiated on complementary foods, it is easy to add prebiotic fibre containing foods to the infant diet. Some example of these are whole-grain foods, bananas, onions, asparagus, artichokes, garlic etc. Also, the mother could consider pumping and storing breast milk for the baby while she is away. If this is not possible or falls inadequate, Infant formula with Prebiotics can be considered for the baby, after consulting the pediatrician
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