Speaking on microbiota health from the infancy to elderly life stages, DuPont Nutrition and Health Probiotic Global Lead for Regulatory Affairs Dr Amy Smith emphasised that the early years were crucial to developing a healthy microbiome.
“The first 1000 days are crucial for microbiota development,” said Smith. “[Using bifidobacteria as an example], these levels are the highest during the early life period, and decrease significantly as we age.”
“The ‘window of opportunity’ is during this period. This means that the first three years of life will establish whether or not [the child grows up to] have a healthy, ideal microbiome.”
Establishing a healthy microbiome
Smith placed a strong emphasis on the role of human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) in the establishment of a healthy microbiome.
“[It is necessary to] feed the microbiome, giving the good bacteria the right food for them to survive and persist. HMOs do just that,” she told delegates, at the event organised by NutraIngredients-Asia.
HMOs are the third largest solute component found in breast milk. Besides playing a strong bifidogenic role, they are known to strengthen the gut barrier function and stimulate the immune system.
HMOs aside, probiotics were also highlighted as an important factor in immune system development.
Citing a study involving pregnant mothers and infants with a family history of eczema, Smith said that children in the study group that were administered with probiotics until the age of two showed significantly less eczema incidence as opposed to the control group.
“Eczema is associated with our immune response, so this is a good example of how the promotion of probiotics and a healthy microbiome promotes health,” she added.
Probiotics effects a shift in microbiota
Smith also stressed that probiotics play a major positive role in microbiota balancing throughout all life stages.
“Different stressors in life like diet, travel, antibiotics can throw gut microbiota off balance and lead to dysbiosis,” said Smith.
“The gut microbiome is affected by many factors. The four main variants that come into play are genetics, lifestyle, environmental impact and inter-microbe interactions – how they relate to one another.
“With all of these things considered, we truly only understand about 10% to 15% of the microbiome variations. But the evidence is there, and we do know that probiotics promote a positive shift.”
“These positive benefits could be from a broad, general level, a species level or even down to a strain-specific level.”
As an example, Smith cited a study conducted on healthy overweight/obese subjects, where those who were given probiotics showed reduction in body fat, increase in lean body mass, and a significant shift towards healthier microbiomes.
As for those in the elderly age group, immune function generally decreases along with age, but Smith illustrated that probiotics administration may be able to help with this.
“[Probiotic intervention] has been shown to promote healthier microbiota and improved immune response in seniors,” she said.