Lactobacillus rhamnosus

Lactobacillus rhamnosus. One of the fascinating little critters that live in your gut to help keep you healthy. Image credit: Citizendium.

Probiotics are fascinating little things. Babies get their first mouthful from their mother’s vagina as they make their way out into the big wide world and continue to colonise their digestive system with the health promoting bacteria through breastmilk and skin contact with other people. It makes sense that birthing a baby through a healthy probiotic rich vagina and snuggling that baby on healthy probiotic rich skin and feeding that baby healthy, probiotic rich breastmilk will give that baby a healthy gut flora and keep the unhealthy bacteria under control. It’s a little less obvious (though used by natural therapists in this way for a while now…) that the probiotics a baby gets from it’s mother can also reduce the risk of that baby developing allergic type health problems  such as eczema, as shown in this study published last week  in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

 

About the study

Researchers said it’s possible that probiotics – which help to balance bacteria in the gut and prevent disease-causing strains from spreading – may influence babies’ health through immune cells that cross the placenta and then are later passed on through mums breast milk.

lead author Samuli Rautava of Turku University Central Hospital, in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology says “Prevention regimen with specific probiotics administered to the pregnant and breast-feeding mother, that is, prenatally and postnatally, is safe and effective in reducing the risk of eczema in infants with allergic mothers”  ie. Probiotics are safe to take while pregnant and breastfeeding and they do work to prevent eczema.

The study involved 241 pregnant women, all who had a history of allergies which would put their babies at high risk of  eczema and other allergies. They were given one of two different probiotic strains. either Lactobacillus rhamnosus or Bifidobacterium longum given as a powder mixed with water once a day, or a probiotic free placebo powder.

The study ran through the final two months of pregnancy and the first two months of breastfeeding. Researchers then tracked their babies’ health for two years to see how many developed rashes.

By the end of the study, 71 percent of babies in the placebo group had had eczema at least once compared to 29 percent of babies whose mother took either of the probiotic combinations.

26 percent of  kids in the placebo group were diagnosed with chronic eczema, compared to 10 percent and six percent, respectively, of those in the two probiotic groups.

However, by age two the study didn’t show any obvious advantage to the probiotic use in pregnancy and breastfeeding.

“(The study) really shows a reduction in eczema from probiotics, which is such a simple and easy intervention for mothers,’ said Ruchi Gupta, an allergy an eczema researcher at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

But she said it was still too soon to see if that reduction in eczema will be tied to a drop in asthma and more serious allergies later on, and Rautava himself said it was still not yet possible to make recommendations for routine use of probiotics.

Rautava and his colleagues didn’t find any evidence of probiotic-related side-effects in either mums or their babies, which is comforting news.

I’d like to point out that probiotics occur naturally in fermented foods and are easy to get from your diet if you make the effort. That’s a post for another day though…