Objective: To evaluate the impact of probiotics and prebiotics on the health of children.
Sources: MEDLINE and LILACS were searched for relevant English and French-language articles.
Summary of the findings: Human milk is rich in prebiotic oligosaccharides and may contain some probiotics. No data suggest that addition of probiotics to infant formula may be harmful, but evidence of its efficacy is insufficient for its recommendation. Since data suggest that addition of specific prebiotic oligosaccharides may reduce infections and atopy in healthy infants, their addition to infant formula seems reasonable. Long-term health benefits of pro- and prebiotics on the developing immune system remain to be proven. Selected probiotics reduce the duration of infectious diarrhea by 1 day, but evidence in prevention is lacking, except in antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Some specific probiotics prevent necrotizing enterocolitis, and other microorganisms may be beneficial in Helicobacter pylori gastritis and in infantile colic. Evidence is insufficient to recommend probiotics in prevention and treatment of atopic dermatitis. The use of probiotics in constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, and extra-intestinal infections requires more studies.
Conclusions: Duration of administration, microbial dosage, and species used need further validation for both pro- and prebiotics. Unjustified health claims are a major threat for the pro- and prebiotic concept.