A recent study has found that the supplementation combo of probiotics and prebiotics could help slash mortality rates in preterm infants when administered shortly after birth. “The prevalence of preterm birth ranges from 5% to 18% across 184 countries, and 15 million infants are born pre-term globally,” explained lead researcher, Associate Professor Jing Sun from Griffith University in Australia.
Sun and colleagues analyzed a large data set that included information generated from nearly 50 global randomized controlled trials with over 12,000 participants. These pre-term babies were born in 19 different countries across the globe, including the U.S., Asia, Africa, and Europe.
Using a suite of big data analytical techniques, the team found that a probiotic, Bifidobacterium, together with prebiotic supplements significantly reduced the risk of infant mortality. Bifidobacterium are ubiquitous inhabitants of the gastrointestinal tract in humans and are a major component of the microbiota. Prebiotics, nutritional compounds that help cultivate the growth and activity of beneficial microorganisms, can help establish the microbiome in these vulnerable infants.
Another bacterial strain, Lactobacillus was beneficial in preventing necrotizing enterocolitis, the most common, life-threatening intestinal disease among premature babies that occurs when the intestinal tissues become injured or inflamed.
“Despite improvements in gestation management and healthcare, preterm birth remains a common and serious pregnancy problem,” said Sun.
“As intestinal mucosa is a natural barrier for migration of bacteria, immature immune system, and gastrointestinal tracts are at risk of complications and are a leading cause of neonatal death.”
The gut microbiota provides many essential health benefits to humans, many of which have yet to be fully understood. One of these is the regulation of immune homeostasis, with mounting evidence pointing towards alterations of the delicate gut microbial ecosystems as root causes of compromised immunities.
This study adds to this body of knowledge, revealing how this supplementation regime, administered for between two and nine weeks, can give preterm babies the best chances for a healthy start. “It is evident that early probiotic supplementation may benefit premature infants by improving their gastrointestinal tolerance again potential pathogens and regulating the altered gut microbiota to that of a healthy infant,” commented Sun.
“We hope this study will contribute to a better understanding of combined probiotics and its effectiveness in reducing future disease burden caused by preterm birth.”