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New infant formula ingredients boost babies' immunity by feeding their gut bacteria

URBANA Adding prebiotic ingredients to infant formula helps colonize the newborn's gut with a stable population of beneficial bacteria, and probiotics enhance immunity in formula-fed infants, two University of Illinois studies report.

"The beneficial bacteria that live in a baby's intestine are all-important to an infant's health, growth, and ability to fight off infections," said Kelly Tappenden, a U of I professor of nutrition and gastrointestinal physiology. "Breast-fed babies acquire this protection naturally. Formula-fed infants get sick more easily because the bacteria in their gut are always changing."

The idea is to make formula more like breast milk by promoting the sorts of intestinal bacteria that live in breast-fed babies' intestines, she added.

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, she said.

Infants have a special need for stimulation of their gut microbiota because they are born with a sterile intestine, Tappenden said.

"A strong, robust population of microbes in the gut provides colonization resistance, and pathogens can't invade and infect an infant who has that resistance as easily," she added.

The researchers compared the effects of feeding pre- and probiotics with infants fed breast milk and control formulas. They also compared the enhanced formulas' effects in both vaginally and Caesarean-delivered babies.

"The probiotic formula significantly enhanced immunity in formula-fed infants," Tappenden said.

Also, babies delivered by C-section had an especially improved immune response, an important finding because C-section babies are a more vulnerable group, she said.

Why? "Babies delivered naturally are exposed to the mother's bacteria as they travel throug

Contact: Phyllis Picklesimer
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

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