Prebiotics May Reduce Childhood Infections

Jacob Collyer-Smith Lifestyle Writer

A new meta-analysis reveals that prebiotics (find out more in the Probiotics Learning Lab) may help to reduce infections in children under 2 years old, particularly in cases of acute respiratory tract infections and gastroenteritis.

The study published in Nutrition Reviews, analysed five randomised-controlled studies that observed the effects of prebiotics on the immunity of infants. The researchers concluded that the evidence suggested, “preventive use of prebiotics decreases the rate of infections requiring antibiotic therapy in infants and children aged 0-24 months”. There is a need to find and develop preventative strategies to help reduce the incidence of respiratory and gastrointestinal infections in children, which will help to reduce healthcare costs, as well as reducing our use of antibiotic medicines.

Jerusalem artichoke
Jerusalem Artichokes are a great natural source of prebiotics, which can also be found in other foods such as bananas and chicory

However, researchers commented that the number of studies available for review was limited; only 5 studies available for infants younger than 2 years, while relevant studies for children aged 2 – 18 years were “completely lacking”.

Further research must be undertaken to understand the mechanisms of action of the prebiotics, as well as investigation in possible benefits for older children too. The researchers commented, “based on the promising results seen in age group 0-2 years, it would be worth conducting such studies in older children as well, especially since children newly entering a community (day nurseries, kindergartens, elementary schools) are acutely exposed to infections”.

Prebiotics are indigestible fibres that cannot be digested by the body and serve as a food source for probiotics, aka friendly bacteria. Prebiotics only selectively feed good bacteria, making them useful in changing the composition of the gut microbiota and extending any benefits of a probiotic.

Update: Healthcare professionals may also be interested to read about a similar randomised-controlled trial on a synbiotic supplement


  1. Lohner, S., Küllenberg, D., Antes, G., Decsi, T. and Meerpohl, J., (2014). Prebiotics in healthy infants and children for prevention of acute infectious diseases: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition Reviews, 72(8): pp.523-531.​
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