Probiotic gets a boost from breast milk

December 6, 2017, American Society for Microbiology
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Supplementation with probiotics can improve a person's gut health, but the benefits are often fleeting, and colonization by the probiotic's good microbes usually doesn't last. Breast milk may help sustain those colonies in the long run, say researchers at the University of California, Davis.

In a study out this week in mSphere, they report that breastfeeding babies who received a three-week course of a probiotic that consumes human still had colonies of those beneficial gut microbes 30 days after the end of probiotic treatment.

The study is the first to show that a combination of and a probiotic organism can lead to lasting changes in the , says neonatologist Mark Underwood, who led the study.

"Even though we stopped giving the probiotic on day 28 of life, the particular organisms we gave stayed in their fecal community out to 60 days and even longer," he says. "They were surviving and dominating, and that's something we really have not seen before."

For the study, Underwood and his colleagues recruited 66 breastfeeding mothers. In one group, 34 mothers fed their newborns a three-week course of Bifidobacterium longum subspecies infantis EVC001, a probiotic supplement. In the other group, the mothers did not administer probiotics. Analyses of from the , collected during the first 60 days of life, revealed stark differences.

Genetic sequencing, PCR analysis, and mass spectrometry revealed larger populations of B. infantis, which improves gut health, in the infants who received supplementation than in the infants who did not. Those colonies persisted for at least 30 days after the end of supplementation, suggesting that the changes were durable, say the researchers. They hypothesize that because the benefit is linked directly to breastfeeding, once the infant stops breastfeeding the colonies will diminish.

Underwood says he and his group suspected B. infantis would pair well with the sugars in breastmilk to shape the . "Compared to all the bugs we've tested, this one is a really good consumer of milk oligosaccharides," he says. "It's able to use the sugar molecules in mom's milk better than any other gut microbe, including commensal and pathogenic bugs." Accordingly, the study's analysis showed that infants who received supplementation had lower levels of human milk oligosaccharides in their feces, which meant more had been consumed by B. infantis.

Studies conducted over the last decade or so have shown deep connections between disease and dysbiosis, which is an imbalance in gut microbial populations. Disruption of the microbiota, particularly early in life, may increase risk for many diseases both inside and outside the gut, including diabetes, allergies and asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, and some cancers, says Underwood. Finding ways to colonize an infant's intestines with beneficial bacteria might lower those lifelong risks.

Further comparisons of the two groups of infants showed other benefits. Fecal samples from infants who received supplementation had lower numbers of potential pathogens and higher levels of lactate and acetate, which are beneficial products of fermentation of human milk sugars by B. infantis.

Underwood says formula could be developed to include oligosaccharides , which might extend the benefits to children who aren't breastfed as well. "If mom can't breastfeed for whatever reason, our hypothesis would be if you give that baby a 3-week course of this probiotic and a formula with added human milk oligosaccharides, colonization should happen and persist as long as they're on that formula," he says.

The researchers next plan to study how the combination of breast milk and probiotics affects the gut health of premature babies, who are at increased risk of dysbiosis.

Explore further: All probiotics are not the same in protecting premature infants from common, life-threatening illness

Related Stories

All probiotics are not the same in protecting premature infants from common, life-threatening illness

October 17, 2013
Treating premature infants with probiotics, the dietary supplements containing live bacteria that many adults take to help maintain their natural intestinal balance, may be effective for preventing a common and life-threatening ...

Protein-trapped sugar compounds nourish infant gut microbes

April 15, 2016
UC Davis researchers have shown that an enzyme produced by beneficial microbes in babies' intestines is able to harvest specific sugar compounds from human breast-milk and cow's milk. The discovery identifies those sugars—rather ...

New infant formula ingredients boost babies' immunity by feeding their gut bacteria

February 29, 2012
Adding prebiotic ingredients to infant formula helps colonize the newborn's gut with a stable population of beneficial bacteria, and probiotics enhance immunity in formula-fed infants, two University of Illinois studies report.

Probiotic supplements failed to prevent babies' infections

July 3, 2017
(HealthDay)—Probiotic supplements may not protect babies from catching colds or stomach bugs in day care, a new clinical trial suggests.

Premature infants may get metabolic boost from mom's breast milk

September 14, 2017
The breast milk of mothers with premature babies has different amounts of microRNA than that of mothers with babies born at term, which may help premature babies catch up in growth and development, according to researchers.

Recommended for you

Infant growth patterns affected by type of protein consumed

May 14, 2018
A new study by CU School of Medicine researchers has determined that choices of protein intake from solid foods has a significant impact on infant growth during the first year of life.

Parents say intense gun violence in PG-13 movies appropriate for teens 15 and older

May 14, 2018
Parents are more willing to let their children see PG-13 movies with intense gun violence when the violence appears to be "justified," used in defense of a loved one or for self-protection, than when it has no socially redeeming ...

Study finds prenatal marijuana use can affect infant size, behavior

May 10, 2018
Smoking during pregnancy has well-documented negative effects on birth weight in infants and is linked to several childhood health problems. Now, researchers at the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions have ...

Very-low-carb diet shows promise in type 1 diabetes

May 7, 2018
Very-low-carbohydrate diets can improve blood sugar control in type 1 diabetes, with low rates of hypoglycemia and other complications, according to an online patient survey. The researchers, led by Belinda Lennerz, MD, PhD, ...

Many teens switch from hi-cal sodas to hi-cal sports drinks

May 7, 2018
(HealthDay)—Teens who were once hooked on sugary sodas may now be now turning to sugary sports drinks, a new study reveals.

SWAT team of immune cells found in mother's milk

May 3, 2018
Immune cells that are ready to take action against invaders like bacteria have been found in women's breast milk, researchers say.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.