Rethinking Healthcare

For better baby formula, bring on the pre- and probiotics

For better baby formula, bring on the pre- and probiotics

Posting in Technology

Infant formulas supplemented with prebiotics and probiotics gain some of the health benefits of real breast milk.

University of Illinois researchers have found that when babies drink formula milk supplemented with prebiotics, the added ingredients promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in their guts. And probiotics in infant formula can improve a baby's immunity. They've published their findings in the Journal for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition.

Formula milk can put babies at a disadvantage to their breast milk-drinking peers. Researchers find that formula babies get sick more easily because they miss out on breast milk's immunity-boosting beneficial bacteria.

The additives could endow formula with some of the benefits of the real thing.

University of Illinois newswriter Phyllis Picklesimer explains:

Prebiotics are carbohydrates that resist digestion by human enzymes and stimulate the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.

Probiotics are actual live bacteria that are beneficial to intestinal health.

Probiotic supplements for adults have become somewhat of a fad in recent years. Market researchers expect US per capita spending on probiotic supplements to nearly double by 2016.

The Los Angeles Times reports that most probiotic supplement research has been done on mice not humans, but evidence exists that the supplements can help stimulate a person's immune system.

The University of Illinois researchers found that when they added probiotics and prebiotics to infant formula, formula-fed babies showed heightened immunity and more beneficial bacteria in their fecal samples.

Nestle, which has come under controversy for heavily promoting infant formula, funded the studies.

Photo: Bradley Gordon/Flickr

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Audrey Quinn

Contributing Writer

Audrey Quinn is a Brooklyn-based multimedia journalist focused on health, tech and the economy. Her radio stories can be heard on Marketplace, Studio 360, PRI's The World, NPR's Latino USA, Deutsche Welle Radio and The Believer Magazine podcast. In addition to her work with CBS Interactive she produces multimedia science stories for online publications and is a teaching assistant at the Transom Story Workshop. Her investigative work has been awarded by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure