The human intestine harbours trillions of microbial cells (good and bad bacteria) that form a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship with the host and play a vital role in both health and disease.
These microbes (microbial cells) play important roles in:
• Maintaining homeostasis (balance or harmony);
• Providing essential nutrients;
• Dietary fibre metabolism; and
• Proper development of the immune system.
Therefore, the gut microbiota is considered a crucial factor for proper early-life development and lifelong health. The microbiome also affects the general health status of the infant or child.
GUT flora development begins before birth
There is evidence that microbial colonisation of the infant gut may begin prior to birth, as the presence of microbes have been found in the placenta, amniotic fluid and the umbilical cord.
However, there are many factors that can influence the development of normal GUT flora, such as:
• Gestational age at birth—Preterm infant gut flora differs from that of full-term infants;
• Infant diet—Breast-fed infants have microbiota enriched with beneficial flora such as lactobacillus, staphylococcus and bifidobacterium, as compared to formula-fed infants; and
• Antibiotic treatment—The use of antibiotic in early life has profound effects on the development of the gut microbiota.
What are potential diseases associated with GUT flora imbalance?
When the balance of the intestinal microbiota becomes disrupted, alterations can lead to:
• Inflammatory bowel disease;
• Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS);
• Allergy and asthma;
• Obesity; and
• Neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism.
What are probiotics and how can it help?
Probiotics are defined as live micro-organisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, have various health benefits to the host, our body. Some probiotic benefits include: improved gut health, immune support, synthesis and improvement of bioavailability of nutrients, reduction in risk of certain diseases, and symptomatic relief of lactose intolerance.
For probiotics to be effective, there are certain desirable properties these should demonstrate, such as: ability to survive variable pH environments; ability to proliferate and colonise their specific location; adhere to mucosal and epithelial surface and tolerate the immune system. The probiotic dose must also reach the minimum adequate concentration to deliver health benefits, which in general is 107 to 109 colony-forming unit (CFU) per daily dose.
1. Ihekweazu D, Versalovic J. “Development of the Pediatric Gut Microbiome: Impact on Health and Disease”. The American Journal of the Medical Sciences, 2018;356(5):413-423.
2. Nagpal, R., Kumar, A., Kumar, M., et al. “Probiotics, their health benefits and applications for developing healthier foods: a review”. FEMS Microbial Lett 2012;334:1-15.
3. Kechagia, M., Dimitrios, B., Konstantopoulou, S., et al. “Health Benefits of Probitoics: A Review”. ISRN Nutrition 2013:1-7.
4. Bertazzoni, E., Donelli, G., et al. “Probiotics and clinical effects: is the number what counts?” Journal of Chemotherapy 2013;25(4):193-212.