Saturday, October 24, 2009

The "catch-22" of probiotics/prebiotics in breastfed infants

As breastfeeding mothers madly dash for the probiotic drops for their colicky infants, they might want to rethink this supplement, especially if they are trying to exclusively breastfeed. And as lactation consultants and the assortment of health care professionals start making this recommendation, they might want to review some very crucial issues.
A recent study in the 2009 Acta Paediatr (98:321-323) called "Cow's milk allergic children can present sensitization to probiotics," by FM Bruni et al. Colick in some breastfed infants is a result of having a cow's milk allergy (either to cow's milk proteins in mother's milk, or to not being exclusively breastfed). So giving probiotics to an infant already sensitized to cow's milk may create a worse situation.
How is probiotics created? Does the consumer understand where the bacteria comes from that creates the supplements and foods that is suppose to create a healthy gut? Lets take for example BioGaia's liquid drops probiotics. According to advertisements for their drops, L.Reuteri is cultured from human breast milk.
A paper in Applied & Environmental Microbiology confirms that ATCC 5570 L.Reuteri is a strain isolated from human breast milk by the company Biogaia of Sweden. The paper is called "Genomic & Genetic Characterization of the Respnse of Probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri ATCC 55730" by Kristi Whitehead et al. This study shows the genetic manipulations being done on human milk bacteria. This same bacteria from Biogaia (ATCC 5570 LReuteri) was used for the study on colic and probiotics in Pediatrics and also is a patent (#5837238) see
So we are to believe that it is far better to give a breastfed infant L.Reuteri bacteria made from some other mother. The bacteria is cloned for use in the food and supplement industry. How is this bacteria the same bacteria that a breastfed infant receives naturally from its mother? Can't be even close to the same because it's survival in the petri dish is dependent on various chemicals. And how do we know whether the bacteria is genetically engineered or not, since in the USA no one has to label their genetically engineered products? Is the bacteria stable? The concern in one paper I read was that there are antibiotic resistant genes in LReuteri and they were working on a process to eliminate those genes. Should we say hurray, hurray??
Isn't their a high level of irony in telling a mother to use a product that at one time was another mother's human milk bacteria? We get the breastfeeding mother to buy a product, therefore she contributes to the growth of the economy. But some breastfeeding mothers contributed to the economy by giving their milk to some smart businessman. Who is now selling it back to them? Brilliant capitalistic game. Have to admire the audacity of our current businessmen who rob from Mary and they make her and others like her buy it back from them. All in the name of health and holism? These products are for support of gut health and based on research on human milk. How come we don't believe that a mother's exclusive breastfeeding supports gut health? We, consumers and health professionals, prefer to believe that something made in a laboratory by a corporation will promote gut health. Breastfeeding mothers are the blood, sweat, and tears of the corporation. Who profits when we have lost our faith in one of humanity's greatest natural resource?
Copyright 2009 Valerie W. McClain


  1. What about obtaining probiotics from (drumroll please)...fermented foods?!

  2. This post was about infants. Babies under 6 months of age should be exclusively breastfed.

    Fermented foods can be good source of probiotics for adults and children, depending on the ingredients. They should be organic and non-gmo.

  3. Interesting.. I'm curious, for a formula fed infant would this be more or less beneficial than not at all?

  4. Probiotics in baby formulas is a relatively new food additive. Which means its a relatively new experiment on infants with no long term studies on the effects of this food additive on infants. Newborn and premature infants would be the most vulnerable and the most at risk due to gut immaturity, which effects immunity. The use of bacteria that is cultured in labs and cloned for foods creates many concerns. This is not a natural process, like making pickles or sauerkraut. It is man-made technology subject to all the risks of mass food production besides unknown risks. According to GMO Compass website, lactic acid (Lactobacillus) production requires that bacteria perform certain chemical changes. They need a specific nutrient medium. That medium is mainly maize (corn) starch or potato starch. Most corn products in the USA are gmo or mixed with gmo corn (not separated from regular corn). There have been concerns about antibiotic resistance in bacteria used to produce probiotics. There are also concerns about the bacteria's stability over the shelf life of infant formula products. And questions about whether the bacteria performs as it is intended by the industry. There are a variety of bacterium used and the reality is that not all work in the same way and some produce toxins. I consider probiotics in baby formulas and foods an experiment. We don't know enough about the risks and all we hear is the marketing hype from the companies that stand to make a profit. But then the history of infant formula is one of experimentation on each new generation of babies. The patents on infant formula show that improvements are made because of newly recognized adverse effects or because of newly recognized nutrient needs of the infant. Most babies in the USA will survive this experimentation but some babies will not survive and some will be damaged. The long term effects of infant formula use in infancy are just being recognized (by the infant formula industry)--heart disease being one of those effects. Probiotics for babies? It's an experiment and as a parent (now grandparent) I would not want my baby/grandbaby to be part of an experiment.

  5. Hi
    I was interested reading your article.
    I am madly researching, trying to work out what to do for my 3 week old, exclusively breastfed newborn, as he sadly was admitted to hospital a few days ago, and started on IV antibiotics (amoxycillan, and cefotaxime) because of a febrile UTI cused by ecoli.
    For us, this was devastaing as we are well aware of how the microbiome forms and the annihilation that happen from antibiotic use at anytime, let alone during the perinatal period,as my husband had done a lot of reading as he has Crohn's as does my sister, and two of my husbands siblings, so we feel like we are poisoning him, watching the antibiotics flow into him, but we couldn't not administer them as there was a high risk he could develop sepsis or meningitis etc, as a result of the infection, the urine was containing blood and pus, and the infection was confirmed by blood and cultures...

    All his healthy bacterias will be totally wiped out by these two broad spectrum antibiotics, and already after 36 hours, his once bountiful poop , has reduced considerably as it is killed off.
    I have been eating organic homemade sauerkraut for natural probiotic along with taking biokult, and done everything possible to give him a good start, and it ends up with the worst case scenario anyway.
    from what i have read, continuing to exclusively breastfeed long term, along with a healthy, wholefood diet later on will help restore his gut bacteria somewhat, but it will never be what it could have been, with multiple strains of good bacterias , especially considering it was knocked out as it only just begun...
    If i wait, for it to reform naturally, then it gives the bad guys a chance to get in and thrive, which is why i was thinking surely giving him probiotics ALONG with breastfeeding exclusively has to be better than doing nothing at all?

    I don't want to have set him up for a lifetime of illness and possibly gastro intestinal disorders because of this antibiotic use, but if we refused the treatment, we very well could have ended up with no baby at all....

  6. There are times when hospitals and antibiotics are a necessity. A fever in a newborn baby is not something to take lightly.

    You write that you don't "want to have set him up for a lifetime of illness and possibly gastro intestinal disorders because of this antibiotic use." I believe that healing can and will happen. Your belief in the ability to heal will be influential in his recovery. You exclusively breastfed your baby until he was hospitalized, protecting his gut right from the beginning. Your breastmilk provided through exclusive breastfeeding has not only pre and probiotics but also stem cells that will repair and protect your son's gut.

    Probiotics is a manufactured substance that imitates breastmilk (patents dating back to the 1950s) Many of the probiotic supplements are genetically engineered. Labeling of gmo in the USA is not mandated, thus no one who buys these products really knows how the product is manufactured. Some of the supplements are made with cow's milk. Researchers have concerns because of allergies created. Will adding probiotics speed healing? Will it do anything? Will it do further damage? Should we believe research done by the companies that manufacture this supplement? Independent research (Cochrane reviews) shows insufficient evidence regarding probiotics in regard to allergies.

    You wrote, "from what i have read, continuing to exclusively breastfeed long term, along with a healthy, wholefood diet later on will help restore his gut bacteria somewhat, but it will never be what it could have been, with multiple strains of good bacterias , especially considering it was knocked out as it only just begun...

    Would you be able to give me the research papers in which this is stated? I have not seen any research papers on this and I question the premise. We know that breastmilk has millions of stem cells that repair and help the intestines to grow. Those stem cells do not just disappear over the months of breastfeeding.

    I think we don't know enough about manufactured probiotics to use them on infants. By exclusively breastfeeding, you are giving your son the probiotics he needs. Will adding manufactured probiotics speed his healing? I don't know. But I do wonder if adding probiotics to the exclusively breastfed infant changes the gut, possibly damaging the gut? .