EARLY LIFE NUTRITION
The digestive system consists of the gastrointestinal tract, commonly known as the gut, and other digestive organs. A healthy adult gut is home to 100 trillion bacteria - a unique community known as the microbiota. This microbiota plays an important role in gut function and is vital for our health.
The importance of gut health starts early in life. As the digestive system of a newborn matures it develops an ability to produce enzymes to digest food and antibodies for protection. A healthy gut and microbiota development is crucial for overall growth and development, may reduce digestive discomfort and, in turn, contribute to the wellbeing of infants and parents. Nutrition plays a major role in supporting the development of a healthy digestive system.
Influencing Gut Microbiota Through Nutrition
Nutricia has pioneered the role of nutrition and gut microbiota to improve health. Our research has focused on the relationship between nutrition and the development of the digestive system in infants. By studying the development of the microbiota of breastfed infants we have learnt how the microbiota can be influenced through nutrition and the impact on health and disease later in life.
The Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics
Prebiotics and probiotics sound similar and are easily confused. Probiotics is the name given to good bacteria naturally present in the gut that help the digestive system to function properly. They are defined as live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, pass a health benefit on to the host.¹ Probiotics are sometimes found in food such as yoghurt; however, they can be digested before they reach the colon where they are needed. Prebiotics are dietary carbohydrates which feed the good bacteria already in the gut. They are not digestible and therefore reach the colon intact. Prebiotics work naturally to stimulate the growth of good bacteria to support gut function, including aiding digestion and a natural immune system.
¹ Guidelines for the Evaluation of Probiotics in Food. Codex. World Health Organisation