Prebiotics & Probiotics – How do they work?
By Australia's Own
Good nutrition is important at every stage of life, but never more so than during the first 1000 days - that is, from conception to the second birthday. Research has shown that the first 1000 days is a kind of golden window of opportunity where the right nutrition is crucial for optimal growth and development. As this includes pregnancy, being at your best nutritional self during pregnancy could not be more important, given the benefits healthy maternal nutrition has on infant development.
It’s also the period when the gut bacteria (also called the gut microbiota) is established and this is essential for immune function, gut health and all sorts of other knock on benefits.
An infant’s gut bacteria is established in utero and continues to develop during an infant’s first months of life and stabilizes at around two-years of age. We’re learning that these good gut bacteria also need the right nutrition to flourish, and that the composition and activities of these microbes can be affected by diet and the environment. That’s why good nutrition during the first 1000 days of life is so important and evolving evidence highlights that good nutrition includes Prebiotics and Probiotics.
The prebiotic & Probiotic difference
Gut Microbiota, Prebiotics & Probiotics
We’ve known for a long time now that the human gut contains bacteria and other microorganisms, called the gut microbiota. The useful bacteria are known as Probiotics and these enter the gut in a variety of ways. Prebiotics feed these good gut bacteria, so they may thrive.
It’s really only been in the last decade or so that scientists have come to appreciate how important these bacteria are to our health. For example, in babies they are known to support the digestive and natural immune systems, as well as growth and development.
Prebiotics & Probiotics and how do they work
Around 70% of a little one’s immune system resides in the gut. So, it’s super important that our children’s digestive and immune systems get the best of everything, to reach their full growth and developmental potential.
That’s where Prebiotics & Probiotics come in. They are both related to the good bacteria living in the gut, which we all need for good digestive wellbeing.
What are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are food for the ‘good’ bacteria living in the gut and so encourage the growth of the useful gut bacteria. They are typically fibre type compounds that do not get digested in the small intestine and pass into the large intestine, where they provide food for the gut bacteria living there. In this way, prebiotics work from within a baby’s digestive system to help the good gut bacteria thrive.
The good gut bacteria are extremely important in the development of a baby’s natural immune and digestive systems. By helping ‘good’ gut bacteria to thrive, prebiotics can help improve the number of ‘useful’ bacteria compared with the number of ‘harmful’ bacteria in the gut. They can also help little ones to stay regular and have softer stools.
Did you know breast milk contains prebiotics?
Breast milk contains many complex prebiotics, called human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs). Making up around one-third of the composition of breast milk, HMOs have been shown to support the Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus bacteria that make up the majority of an infant’s gut microbiota.
They’ve also been shown to have important health benefits, particularly on the developing immune system. Research on HMOs underscores the importance of prebiotics in early life nutrition.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics, on the other hand, are the living, ‘good’ bacteria that reside in the gut and help to create a healthy gut bacteria environment. These help the digestive system function properly. Like prebiotics, breast milk also contains an array of probiotics. Studies suggest that mothers pass these bacteria onto their babies during breastfeeding.
Supplementing a baby’s diet with the probiotic called Bifidobacterium lactis Bb12 has been shown to significantly reduce the number of episodes of gastrointestinal infections compared with babies who did not have the probiotic. Furthermore, higher gut levels of Bifidobacteria in infants have been shown to be associated with good development and maturation of the immune system.
Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.