Children between ages 1 and 3 who drank milk fortified with both probiotics and prebiotics daily for one year got sick significantly less often than children who drank unfortified milk, in a new randomized clinical trial of 624 Indian children from Johns Hopkins researchers.
The term symbiotic refers to the complementary (or symbiotic) action of prebiotics, antioxidant and soluble-fiber compounds that encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria known as probiotics in the digestive tract. (Fortified milk in the trial contained prebiotic carbohydrates called oligosaccharides (also found in breast milk) and a probiotic strain called Bifidobacterium lactis HN019.)
Children drinking the fortified milk had much fewer cases than the control group of dysentery (21 percent), pneumonia (24 percent), and severe acute lower respiratory infection (35 percent). Overall, they suffered fewer days of severe illness and fever (16 percent and 5 percent fewer, respectively).
“The digestive system is our first line of defense against harmful bacteria carried in through food, drink, or air, so probiotics help the immune system function correctly,” says Gary Huffnagle, PhD, professor of internal medicine, microbiology, and immunology at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, and coauthor of The Probiotics Revolution (Bantam, 2007).
To maximize health benefits, natural health experts are increasingly recommending not only probiotic-rich foods such as kefir, yogurt, tempeh, and miso, but also prebiotic-rich foods such as whole-wheat products, oats, beans, bananas, asparagus, garlic, and onions.
Manufacturers are adding probiotics and prebiotics to supplements and foods, including yogurt and other dairy products. Look on the ingredient list for the words inulin, FOS, or fructan.