New research suggests that infants given probiotics are no less likely to get sick or have infections than infants who didn’t receive the dietary supplements, which include live bacteria supposed to promote healthy gut activity.
In a study published in the July issue of the medical journal Pediatrics, researchers focused on the risk of infection among Danish infants ages 8 months to 14 months, seeking to determine if children who took probiotics were sick less often than those who didn’t take probiotics.
The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study analyzed data from nearly 300 infants. Each infant was randomly allocated into one of two groups. One group received a probiotic powder in their food or liquid. The powder contained a combination of Bifidobacterium animalis subsp lactis and Lactobacillus rhamnosus. They were given the powder once a day, every day for six months. The other group was given a placebo powder with no probiotics, once a day for six months.
Researchers then analyzed the number of absences from child care the infants had and the occurrence of illness and symptoms. Parents also registered doctor visits using daily and weekly Web-based questionnaires.
The findings suggest that there was no difference in the rates of illness among the two groups of infants. Researchers focused on doctor-diagnosed upper and lower respiratory tract infections, antibiotic treatments and the occurrence and duration of diarrhea and common cold symptoms, like fever and vomiting. They also tallied the number of days caregivers missed work as a result of a child’s illness.
Overall, children from both groups missed 11 days of child care on average, regardless of whether they were taking a probiotic or not. Researchers determined the probiotic did not reduce the number of days an infant was absent from child care.
None of the infants experienced any negative side effects from taking the probiotics.
Study authors said they believe the reason for no additional benefit from the probiotic was because many of the infants in both groups were still being breast fed. At least half of the total group of infants overall were still breastfed.
Study has shown breast milk to be much more beneficial for an infant, compared to formula. However, researchers believe the breast milk offers an extra benefit and a boost to the infants immune system, so much so, that the probiotic did not provide an added benefit.
Study authors say more studies are needed to focus on probiotics and whether they offer additional immune protection to infants, particularly formula fed infants. Regardless, many pediatricians recommend probiotics to infants, which are generally considered safe.