Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Health

When Probiotics Really Do Work

Clinical trial shows some proof that treatment can be effective.

DSC-D0218_15.jpg
Indian newborns who received a specially concocted probiotic dose were less likely to develop sepsis, a life-threatening infection. | Kunal Patil/Hindustan Times/Getty Images

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Probiotics seem like a good idea: Use products that contain beneficial bacteria to fortify our immune systems. But most studies, especially larger ones, had not shown they actually do much good.

But now there’s some proof. In a clinical trial in rural India involving more than 4,500 newborns, a U.S.-led team and a team from the Asian Institute of Public Health gave half the babies a specially formulated probiotic concoction, while the remainder got a placebo. The team found the treated infants had a significantly lower risk of developing sepsis, a life-threatening infection that kills 600,000 newborns globally each year. Only 5.4 percent of babies given the concoction got sepsis, compared with 9 percent who received a placebo, according to the study published in August in Nature.

What made this study different is, rather than using off-the-shelf probiotics that can’t gain a foothold in the gut, researchers tested over 280 probiotic strains to find the right one. Their product contained a form of Lactobacillus plantarum, bacteria that can colonize cells in the intestines, preventing the bad bugs from doing the same. “Hopefully, we’ll figure out how the bacteria modulate newborns’ immune system,” says Pinaki Panigrahi, an epidemiologist who led the team. “Because if we can give this to them early enough, it should protect against disease.”

    2 Free Articles Left

    Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

    Subscribe

    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

    Want unlimited access?

    Subscribe today and save 75%

    Subscribe

    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In