Bifidobacteria Supplementation in Preventing Allergy Development in Infants

Written by
Fathalla Ali, Bsc MSc, MPH and PHD student UNSW

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines a “probiotic” as “live microorganisms which, when ingested in an adequate amount as part of foods, benefit the health of the host” (FAO & WHO). It has been found that for a microorganism to be defined as a probiotic, the microorganism should survive when passing through the gastrointestinal tract. In other words, the organism must be able to resist digestion by the gastric juices and to grow and colonize in the digestive tract. Bifidobacteria is among the commonly used probiotics and is classified among the microorganisms that are generally regarded as safe (GRAS). Bifidobacteria was found to have a major role in restoring the normal microbiota colonization after antibiotic treatment and resists pathogenic bacteria growth. 

In an open trial conducted at the Hidaka General hospital in Japan, Enomoto et al investigated the effect of Bifidobacteria supplementation for pregnant mothers and their infants on microbiota development and allergy prevention. A total of 166 pregnant women were recruited. 36 pregnant women were assigned as control and 130 were assigned to probiotic group based on the willingness of the participants. The probiotic pregnant group were given Bifidobacterium breve M-16V and Bifidobacterium longum BB536 beginning at approximately 1 month prior to delivery and postnatally to their infants for 6 months. Pregnant mothers were asked to consume the Bifidobacterial powder by drinking it with water or milk. After birth, the infants were given one sachet of the same Bifidobacteria to be consumed with milk (breast milk or formula) or water. All pregnant mothers and their infants were asked not to change their living habits such as diet and exercise and to avoid consuming any commercial probiotic supplements during the intervention. Fecal samples were collected from the mothers and infants and assessment of allergy development was assessed at 4, 10 and 18 months of age.

Findings from this trial showed that:

  • The prevalence of eczema/atopic dermatitis (AD) was lower at 4, 10 and 18 months of in the probiotic group.
  • When comparing the subgroups of mothers with or without allergy, the prevalence of eczema/AD at 10 months of age infants in the probiotic group tended to be lower than that of the control group.
  • When comparing the subgroups of mothers with or without family history of allergy, the prevalence of eczema/AD at 10 months infants in probiotic group tended to be lower than that of the control group.
  • The prevalence of eczema/AD decreased at 10 months in the probiotic group when compared with the control group among the infant fed primarily formula milk. Therefore, this finding indicated that eczema/AD development among formula fed infants could be minimized by probiotic supplementation.
  • The fecal microbiota composition showed that there was a distinct difference in the gut microbiota composition between allergic infants and non-allergic infants at 4 months of age but not at 10 months. The proportion of Actinobacteria (good bacteria) was significantly lower and proteobacteria (bad bacteria) tended to be higher in infants diagnosed with eczema/AD at 4 months of age. Therefore, this finding highlighted the importance of gut microbiota composition in regulating the allergy development in infants

Reference:

Enomoto, T., Sowa, M., Nishimori, K., Shimazu, S., Yoshida, A., Yamada, K., Furukawa, F., Nakagawa, T., Yanagisawa, N., Iwabuchi, N., Odamaki, T., Abe, F., Nakayama, J., & Xiao, J. Z. (2014). Effects of bifidobacterial supplementation to pregnant women and infants in the prevention of allergy development in infants and on fecal microbiota. Allergology international : official journal of the Japanese Society of Allergology, 63(4), 575–585. Click here