Probiotics are good bacteria that confer health
benefits in the recipients. Prebiotics on the other hand, are non-digestible
food ingredients found in fruit and vegetables like inulin,
fructo-oligosaccharide (FOS) and galacto-oligosaccharide that stimuate the
growth and/or activity of certain bacteria in the colon and improve the host's
health. Probiotics and prebiotics are added to preterm
infant formula is to improve growth and development, and decrease infections,
thereby resulting in an intestinal microbiota resembling that of breastfed
This review was carried out to assess the growth
rate among preterm or low birth weight babies after the use of prebiotic or
probiotic infant formula, and to decide if these formulas did show a visible
increase in the growth rate and improvement in clinical outcomes. It evaluated
date from various published and ongoing studies on the same topic.
The researchers did not find any significant
improvement in weight gain following addition of probiotics to infant formula
in preterm infants. It also did not
show any significant reduction in complications like necrotizing enterocolitis,
sepsis and death as compared to infants who did not receive probiotics.
The addition of prebiotics also did not result
in weight gain or head growth. However,
the addition of fructo-oligosaccharide was associated with an increase in
linear growth of the infants. Some short term benefits were observed with prebiotic
use like increased bifidobacteria counts and the presence of fewer disease-causing
bacteria in the prebiotic group compared to control group.
The studies that were evaluated in this review were
too few in number and were conducted over a very short duration. Hence, the benefits or harms of using
prebiotics and postbiotics cannot be concluded based on this study. Further studies are necessary to establish
and recommend the use of these agents in preterm and low birth weight infants.