Probiotics are micro-organisms usually classified as bacteria (sometimes a few specific yeast). They live in the intestines and have been ascribed numerous functions. They are carefully classified and some of their names may actually be familiar to you: lactobacillus, bifidobacterium, and streptococcus thermophilus are the most common. Generally, lactobacillus is found in the small intestine and bifidobacterium are found in the large intestine.
A newborn gastrointestinal tract is sterile at birth, that is, NO bacteria are growing. The infant’s first exposure to healthy bacteria is from the birth canal (not so much if the baby is born by Caesarian Section). The next exposure to healthy bacteria for the tummy would be obtained while breast feeding. Healthy bacteria are then “seeded” into the intestinal tract, grow, and multiply. If the baby is exposed to antibiotics early on, this would make the growing and multiplying much more difficult.
What do probiotics do?
Short Chain Fatty Acid Production (SCFA)
Healthy bacteria, the probiotics, are responsible for fermenting some starches and fiber into short change fatty acids (primarily acetate, propionate, and butyrate). Some of these SCFA may reduce the risk of developing gastrointestinal disorders, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
Studies have demonstrated that the use of probiotics decrease inflammation in the bowels by improving how the cells that line the digestive tube function.
Regulation of what is allowed to grow in the bowels
The use of probiotics appears to modulate what grows in the bowels – good bacteria versus unhealthy bacteria.
Probiotics improve how the cells lining the gastrointestinal tract (called epithelial cells) create a barrier, thus keeping OUT things that should not be admitted into our body (and thus, passed out through the bowels). This results in enhancing intestinal health and stimulating immunity while inhibiting epithelial invasion.
Probiotics positively modulate immunological processes and have been shown to decrease the risk of atopic dermatitis (eczema) in infants. Studies have also demonstrated improved immune response overall:
- Increase circulating white blood cells
- Stimulate phagocytosis
- Elevated levels of antigen-specific antibodies
Which probiotics are best?
This is under a lot of investigation. It appears that strains of lactobacillus and bifidobacterium are most important for enhancing overall bowel health. The actual amount to be given is still under investigation, but current studies demonstrate there is effectiveness and safety with anywhere from 4 million to 4 billion (or more) colony forming units.
What are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are usually classified as oligosaccharides (such as fructooligosaccharides derived from Jerusalem artichoke) and inulin. These are carbohydrates that are not digestible but can be a source of nutrition of probiotic bacteria…thus acting as food and most likely increase the number of bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria (lactobacillus). Prebiotics are usually well tolerated, but there is a concern that in some individuals that they can also foster growth of some of the undesirable bacteria in the colon such as Klebsiella.
Why do our children need probiotics?
There are many reasons that our children have abnormal bacteria growing in their bowels. Anything that alters normal function of the bowels will greatly impact the microbes growing in the bowels. Many of our children have had one or more of the following: chronic diarrhea, constipation, history of numerous antibiotic exposures, steroids, very odd diets (too many carbs/sugars, etc), abnormal digestion, and malabsorbtion. Advanced stool studies can give counts of the different healthy and non-healthy bacteria in a given stool sample and can help guide us to providing the right type of probiotics.
Bowel disease, in one form or another is so very common in children with Autism. One of the very best medical interventions we start with is the addition of a PROBIOTIC. This is done in an attempt to help increase the healthy bacteria in the bowel, decrease inflammation of the epithelial cells of the bowel, improved bowel health overall, and positively impact the immune system.