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Probiotics Reduce Colds, Respiratory Tract Infections in Infants


Anyone who has ever had an infant knows that colds and other upper respiratory tract infections are common occurrences and occasionally can be serious. Results of a new study suggest that infants who receive daily doses of probiotics experience significantly fewer respiratory illnesses.

Probiotics fight viral infections such as the common cold

Much has been written about probiotics, which have been defined by the World Health Organization as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.” These beneficial bacteria reside in the intestinal tract, where they share space with disease-causing bacteria. Supplementing with probiotics can help ensure the infectious agents have less of a fighting chance.

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Turku in Finland, who enrolled 109 one-month-old infants and randomly assigned them to receive either twice daily doses of the probiotics Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis BB12 or a placebo until they reached age eight months. Over the period of the study, infants who had received probiotics experienced a significant reduction in respiratory infections when compared with those in the placebo group.

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Specifically, 65 percent of probiotic-treated infants had a respiratory tract infection compared with 94 percent of infants in the placebo group. The study was also believed to be the first to administer probiotics to infants via a soft pacifier, which allowed for slow release of the beneficial bacteria. The pacifier was developed to include a pouch in which supplements can be inserted, and where they can dissolve slowly and entirely while the infant sucks.

Previous studies of probiotics, especially in children, have shown them to be helpful in reducing infections, relieving eczema, and helping prevent flu. Probiotics have also been shown to be effective in easing symptoms of irritable bowel and possibly celiac disease. A recent study in Pediatrics also found that in older children (ages 3-5 years), daily doses of probiotics reduced fever, cough, and runny nose and the duration and use of antibiotics.

The common cold is the most common infectious disease in humans, and it most often affects young children. Daily doses of probiotics may help reduce the incidence of colds and other respiratory tract infections in infants, and the beneficial bacteria can be delivered via a pacifier.

Leyer GJ et al. Pediatrics 2009 Aug; 124(2): e172-79
Taipale T et al. British Journal of Nutrition 2010; doi: 10.1017/S000711451003685