Synbiotics may reduce childhood illness: Study

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Synbiotics may reduce childhood illness: Study

Related tags: Probiotic

Daily consumption of milk fortified with probiotics and prebiotics may reduce the incidence of childhood illness, according to a community-based, double-blind, randomized controlled trial.

Milk containing prebiotic oligosaccharides and Bifidobacterium lactis​ HN019 reduced respiratory infections by 35 percent, and reduced the days of severe illness and fever by 16 and 5 percent, respectively.

“The findings of this study suggest that fortification with prebiotic and probiotic together may provide one of the potential interventions to reduce the burden of common childhood morbidities,”​ wrote scientists from Johns Hopkins University in the US and Annamalai University in India in the open-access journal PLoS ONE​.

The study, supported by Fonterra Brands, also supports the use of milk as a delivery vehicle for the probiotic-prebiotic combination.


According to the FAO/WHO, probiotics are defined as "live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host"​. Prebiotics are "nondigestible substances that provide a beneficial physiological effect on the host by selectively stimulating the favourable growth or activity of a limited number of indigenous bacteria"​. Synbiotics are a combination of the two.

Study details

Led by Johns Hopkins’ Robert Black, the researchers conducted a randomized clinical trial in 624 children aged between one and three years old. The children were randomly assigned to receive either a control milk or the same milk fortified with B. lactis​ HN019 (1.9×107 colony forming units per day) and prebiotic oligosaccharides (2.4 grams per day).

The children were followed for one full year, after which the researchers observed significant reductions in the incidence of dysentery (21 percent), pneumonia (24 percent), and severe acute lower respiratory infection (35 percent) in the children receiving the synbiotic milk, compared with the control group.

While no overall effects on the incidence of diarrhea were recorded by Dr Black and his co-workers, an effect was observed in children over the age of two.

Immune modulation

“This study, which is the largest reported thus far, implemented an active home based surveillance for morbidity and had a follow up of full one year which potentially provided sensitive estimation of the morbidity,”​ wrote the researchers.

“The beneficial effects documented in this study are multi-systemic, indicating that the underlying mechanism for the beneficial effects most likely was due to improved immune response to viral and bacterial infections,”​ they added.

Adding a note of caution, Dr Black and his co-workers noted that the results need to be confirmed in different settings using “locally available probiotic strains” ​before any recommendations are made regarding public health.

Source: PLoS ONE
August 2010, Volume 5, Issue 8, e12164
“Prebiotic and Probiotic Fortified Milk in Prevention of Morbidities among Children: Community-Based, Randomized, Double-Blind, Controlled Trial”
Authors: S. Sazawal, U. Dhingra, G. Hiremath, A. Sarkar, P. Dhingra, A. Dutta, P. Verma, V.P. Menon, R.E. Black

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