Elderly adults have alterations in their gut microbiota and immune functions that are associated with higher susceptibility to infections and metabolic disorders. Probiotics and prebiotics, and their synbiotic combinations are food supplements that have been shown to improve both gut and immune function. The objective of this randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over human clinical trial was to study immune function and the gut microbiota in healthy elderly adults. Volunteers (n 37) consumed prebiotic galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS; 8 g/d), probiotic Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07 (Bi-07; 10(9) colony-forming units/d), their combination (Bi-07 + GOS) and maltodextrin control (8 g/d) in four 3-week periods separated by 4-week wash-out periods. Immune function was analysed by determining the phagocytic and oxidative burst activity of monocytes and granulocytes, whole-blood response to lipopolysaccharide, plasma chemokine concentrations and salivary IgA levels. Gut microbiota composition and faecal SCFA content were determined using 16S ribosomal RNA fluorescence in situ hybridisation and HPLC, respectively. Primary statistical analyses indicated the presence of carry-over effects and thus measurements from only the first supplementation period were considered valid. Subsequent statistical analysis showed that consumption of Bi-07 improved the phagocytic activity of monocytes (P < 0·001) and granulocytes (P = 0·02). Other parameters were unchanged. We have for the first time shown that the probiotic Bi-07 may provide health benefits to elderly individuals by improving the phagocytic activity of monocytes and granulocytes. The present results also suggest that in the elderly, the effects of some probiotics and prebiotics may last longer than in adults.
Keywords: Bi-07, Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis Bi-07; Clinical trials; Elderly adults; GOS, galacto-oligosaccharide; IFN, interferon; LPS, lipopolysaccharide; Prebiotics; Probiotics; ROS, reactive oxygen species.