Probiotics greatly benefit digestive health of children, seniors, research says

WASHINGTON New research on the benefits of probiotics in children and seniors was presented at The American College of Nutrition Annual Meeting in a symposium Monday. Scientific experts in the fields of pediatrics, aging, and nutrition discussed the potential uses for probiotics in children as well as the elderly, and for health conditions such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

“Infants don’t have all of their gut bacteria at birth as they acquire it up until about 2 years of age,” stated Allan Walker, professor of Nutrition and Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, as part of a panel of speakers in summarizing the role of probiotics in pediatrics.

Mary Ellen Sanders, a consultant specializing in probiotics, provided an overview of the studies showing the benefits of probiotics and health. She said, “compelling new studies are showing how probiotics can help keep healthy people healthy. One study showed a decreased incidence of common infectious diseases among kids in day care.” She stressed the fact that each individual strain of probiotic can act differently, so a probiotic that helps with digestion may be different from one that supports the immune system.

Stefano Guandalini, professor of Pediatrics and director of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center shared the newest research on probiotics and inflammatory bowel disease. “Inflammatory bowel disease is a condition that affects approximately 1 million adults and 150,000 children in the U.S. Emerging studies are showing promise in children and will continue to help determine how we can be using probiotics practically for such serious conditions.”

About 70 percent of our body’s immune system is located in the digestive tract and as we age, our immune function weakens, added Simin Meydani, associate director of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. “The idea is that taking in certain probiotics on a regular basis might positively change the bacterial populations in the gut in older people,” she said.

Under normal circumstances in our gastrointestinal systems, there are many more “friendly” bacteria than “bad” bacteria. If this balance shifts, however, the functioning of the gastrointestinal tract may be affected. Research suggests that adding probiotics to the diet can help optimize the functioning of the intestinal lining, as well as, the immune system, researchers noted.

A Webcast of the symposium will be made available at http://nutrition.med.harvard.edu/, www.usprobiotics.org, and www.americancollegeofnutrition.org.

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