The pros of probiotics for preemies

Paediatrician Richard Goldbloom answers questions about probiotics as a children's health aid, and as a supplement to help a condition common to preemies

Dr. Richard Goldbloom is not someone you’d ever want to measure your achievements against. The paediatrician, former chairman of the Rhodes Scholar selection committee, officer of the Order of Canada, and chancellor emeritus of Dalhousie University is not only a Canadian leader, but is also internationally renowned in the field of children’s health. We reached him in Halifax to get his quick take on probiotics and their uses in paediatric medicine. 

How long have probiotics been used as a medicinal aid?
In a sense, I guess they’ve been used for centuries, because people in Europe used to use yogurt, which is effectively a probiotic (it’s a so-called lactobacillus) and used it to treat, particularly, intestinal disorders. So it’s a very ancient folk remedy, which has been rediscovered.

Is yogurt still the best way to incorporate probiotics into children’s health?
As long as it’s not sterilized, yogurt can work quite well as a probiotic. Of course, nowadays, people are fancier and use the pure bacteria, through probiotic-enriched formula. It is mostly being used for small infants, like preemies, in an attempt to prevent a condition called necrotizing entercolitis, which is a pretty fancy name for an inflammation of the lining of the intestine, which tends to destroy the lining. This condition affects a number of premature babies, particularly those who are fed artificial formula. There have been a few studies that have shown that probiotics prevent such disease.

You’re talking about the benefits of supplementing preemies with probiotic-enriched formula, but isn’t the prevailing advice that preemies should be fed breast milk?
It’s true that they should be fed breast milk, but that’s not always possible. When it isn’t, they have to be fed artificial formulas, which are designed to be as digestible as possible for a small infant. And, as I said, these probiotic-enriched formulas are being used in a number of nurseries as to prevent necrotizing entercolitis.

Is the use of probiotics in pediatric medicine evolving? Are there other applications on the horizon?
Not to a huge extent, really. We have so many other effective ways of treating most infections, particularly in the intestinal tract, that the main area of interest has been in very small, very premature infants, because they’re the ones that are most susceptible.

How do probiotics work with infants who are on antibiotic regimes?
Probiotics have also been used to counteract the negative effects of antibiotics. Generally, the benefits of antibiotics far outweigh the disadvantages, but when people are taking oral antibiotics for any length of time, it can disturb the normal bacteria that inhabit the intestine, or the “flora.” Probiotics can be used to counter this.

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