Gastrointestinal (GI) microbiome
Contains around 100 trillion microorganisms which outnumber human cells by 10 to 1 and include bacteria, single-cell microorganisms, yeasts, fungi and viruses. Collectively, these are referred to as the gastrointestinal (GI) microbiota. There are more than 1,000 species, although 95-99% are made up by 10 genera. A higher concentration of certain genera, including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, is associated with a healthier intestinal tract.
The GI microbiome is an extremely complex ecosystem representing the greatest area of contact with the environment comprising the GI lining, immune cells and resident intestinal flora, and interacts with the nervous system via the gut-brain axis. Functional GI disorders are very common.
Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus species have been found to significantly increase GI populations of beneficial bacteria, while simultaneously decreasing populations of less health-promoting bacteria. For a good therapeutic effect, probiotics need to withstand the harsh environment of the stomach’s acidity and the intestine’s bile salts and have good adherence to the intestinal mucosa. Good adherence to the intestinal mucosa is important as it prolongs the time a probiotic strain can reside in the intestine, giving it an opportunity to modulate the immune response and protect against pathogens by limiting their ability to colonise the intestine.
Beneficial effects of probiotics include:
- Maintaining a healthy balance of GI flora
- Improving the composition and diversity of intestinal flora
- Supporting immune health
- Maintaining healthy digestive function
- Maintaining digestive barrier function
- Inhibiting, displacing and competing for adhesion sites with pathogens
- Production of antimicrobial compounds
- Production of beneficial compounds e.g. short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) such as butyrate, enzymes, vitamins
- Involvement in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism
Digestive system health
Children may experience many digestive related complaints while their digestive systems mature and strengthen. Maintaining a fully functional digestive system is a delicate balance during the development of the GI flora. This delicate balance can be disrupted by many aspects, including diet and antibiotic use.
Children, even as the innate and adaptive immune systems begin to mature, are at risk from many pathogenic viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. The immune system gradually matures from infancy continuing into childhood. The accumulation of immunological memory is critical in childhood as this memory persists into old age, influencing the immune response in adulthood.
Antibiotic use is commonly associated with disturbed GI flora. Probiotics can help maintain beneficial GI flora in infants and children during antibiotic use. Probiotics are best taken
2-3 hours away from antibiotics for greater effect.