Probiotic supplements can help preterm babies overcome challenges: study

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Calgary researchers have uncovered new evidence of how probiotics can help promote health in even the tiniest of patients.

A study, conducted by neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) doctors at the Foothills Medical Centre in partnership with the University of Calgary's Cumming School of Medicine, found that daily probiotic supplements helped extremely preterm infants who were born without fully formed gut microbiomes.

The data, which included infants born at less than 29 weeks gestation and who weighed less than one kilogram at birth, suggested that the supplements promoted a much more mature microbiome, reducing inflammation in the patients' guts.

"The gut microbiome is a complex community containing different species of microorganisms that contribute to important aspects of the immune system, including fighting pathogens and preventing immune diseases, such as asthma and Type 1 diabetes," said Dr. Jumana Samara, neonatologist and first author of the study in a release.

"We found that the bifidobacterial strains within the probiotic supplement acted like an ecosystem engineer, promoting microbiome growth, connections between species and microbiome stability."

Doctors say the findings will help the early development of preterm babies.

"Due to their immature digestive and immune systems, preterm babies face unique challenges when it comes to feeding," said Dr. Belal Alshaikh, a neonatologist at the Foothills Medical Centre and co-principal investigator.

"The blend of probiotics in our study resulted in better feeding tolerance and reduced signs of allergic reaction in babies’ digestive system."

But Alshaikh said there is more work that needs to be done, such as testing what probiotic blend works best. This is because parents need to know what products to buy for their babies.

He advises all parents to consult their doctor before considering giving probiotics to their babies.

Officials say many of the children included in this study are also part of a larger research project called the Alberta BLOOM study.

This work is looking into the health and microbiome of premature infants throughout their childhood.

More information on the probiotic study can be found online.