A targeted probiotic supplementation, in conjunction with breastfeeding, could help reduce the potential for antibiotic resistance, a new study suggests.

Image credits: Andrés Nieto Porras.

Probiotics (live bacteria and yeasts that are allegedly good for your health and digestive system) remain a controversial topic — their benefits are often oversold and rarely backed up by actual science. But in recent years, studies have shown that, in some specific scenarios, probiotics do offer significant advantages.

In a new study, researchers found that breastfed infants who were given a specific probiotic strain of B. infantis had, on average, 87.5% less antibiotic resistance genes in their gut microbiome compared to infants who were breastfed without that probiotics.

Antibiotic resistance is not something many people think about while raising their children, but perhaps we should start paying more attention to it: recently, the World Health Organisation announced antibiotic resistance as one of the biggest threats to global health, and this is definitely a growing concern for the younger generations. Having a simple way to reduce antibiotic resistance could make a big difference in the long run.

Antibiotic resistance

Because many members of the public take antibiotics when they are not required to, many pathogens have started developing an immunity to common treatments — even the strong treatments. This has become a great concern, especially as some infections have started going beyond the limit of what we can currently treat.

Misuse of antibiotics in both humans and animals is accentuating this problem, and researchers are looking for ways to combat it.

Dr. Giorgio Casaburi, lead author of the research, comments:

“These results demonstrate that targeted bacterial supplementation is capable of remodelling the ecology of the infant gut microbiome and therefore reduce antibiotic gene reservoirs in children. We found that supplementation with the infant gut symbiont significantly diminished both the abundance and diversity of antibiotic resistance genes”.

Casaburi and his colleagues administered the probiotic supplement for 21 days. They chose a probiotic uniquely adapted to thrive in the infant’s gastrointestinal system. The probiotic bacteria colonize the infant’s gut. Without it, the gut is colonized by other bacteria which enable the evolution, persistence and dissemination of antibiotic resistance genes.

While this is a fairly small trial, it still showcases an important potential for dealing with antibiotic resistance in a safe way that doesn’t have any unwanted side effects.

“The supplementation offers a novel approach towards providing an alternative, safe and non-invasive method to decrease the number of genes that resist antibiotics in infants” added Dr Casaburi. “This is the first demonstration of significant remodelling of the infant gut microbiome. This modulation could help to reduce the burden and diversity of antibiotic resistance genes in current and future generations”.

The results have not yet been peer-reviewed and will be presented at European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology Hepatology and Nutrition.

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