Study Results Show Probiotic Supplements Helps Form Mature Microbiome in Preterm Babies


Analysis provides new understanding of the effect of probiotics on the tiniest of infants in the neonatal intensive care.

Probiotic supplements can help form a healthy microbiome in the guts of the tiniest preterm infants who are born without fully formed gut microbiomes, according to the results of a study published in Cell Host & Microbe.

Investigators found that a specific mix of 5 species of probiotic supplements accelerated the maturation of the microbiome into a term-like state and reduced intestinal inflammation in extremely preterm infants.

“These are the tiniest of preterm infants who spend the first months of their life in neonatal intensive care,” Marie-Claire Arrieta, PhD, an assistant professor at the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary, said in a statement.

“The findings show that a daily probiotic supplement containing the right type of microbes prompted a rapid transition of the gut microbiome to what is normally observed in healthy, breastfed infants born at term,” she said. “This mature microbiome is more stable, more resilient and was linked to reduced inflammation in the babies’ gut.”

The randomized clinical trial was conducted at the neonatal intensive care unit at the Foothills Medical Centre. Investigators included infants born before 29 weeks gestation and weighed less than 1 kilogram at birth.

Probiotics are often recommended to moderately premature infants to prevent serious gastrointestinal inflammation and sepsis, but there is not sufficient evidence that recommends probiotic use in extremely premature infants.

Investigators aimed to determine if probiotics supplements affected the development of the gut microbiome, given that a fully developed microbiome is essential for the body’s immune defense.

“The gut microbiome is a complex community containing different species of microorganisms that contribute to important aspects of the immune system, including fighting pathogens and preventing immune diseases, such as asthma and type 1 diabetes,” Jumana Samara, MD, neonatologist at the Foothills Medical Centre, said in the statement.

“We found that the bifidobacterial strains within the probiotic supplement acted like an ecosystem engineer, promoting microbiome growth, connections between species and microbiome stability. It also dampened intestinal inflammation,” Samara said.

When an infant is born prematurely, they experience factors that impact the development of the microbiome, including the introduction of a life-saving antibiotic that alters the microbiome.

The premature infant’s microbiome looks different than infants born at term, with a reduced number of bifidobacterial species, which are essential to a healthy infant microbiome. Investigators also found that the premature infants’ immature gut microbiomes have high numbers of potential pathogens that can cause life-threatening infections.

Although this study shows that probiotics can improve the digestive and immune health of preterm infants, there is a need for more research to help identify the best probiotic blend and confirm the safety of available commercial products, Belal Alshaikh, MD, a neonatologist at the Foothills Medical Centre, said in the statement.

Parents should check with their physicians before administering probiotics to newborns, he added.

“Due to their immature digestive and immune systems, preterm babies face unique challenges when it comes to feeding. The blend of probiotics in our study resulted in better feeding tolerance and reduced signs of allergic reaction in babies’ digestive system,” Alshaikh said.


UCalgary study finds probiotic supplement helps to form a mature microbiome in extremely preterm infants. EurekAlert. News release. May 19, 2022. Accessed May 24, 2022.

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