This year’s World Digestive Health Day, May 29, highlights the changing dietary needs of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract from new-born, through infancy, childhood, and adulthood. With so many consumers now looking to address their digestive and immune health, it is important to realize that supporting a person’s inner defense begins in the womb. This is why the World Gastroenterology Organisation (WGO) has chosen "A Healthy Gut from the Start" as its focus for the 2023 WDHD campaign.

The first months of life are a crucial period, as the gut is not mature at birth, thus immune development is influenced by the food a baby consumes. The maturation of the gut microbiota and the immune system is ongoing during the first 24 months of life. Studies have shown that support of the microbiota can strengthen the immune system of nursery-aged children.[i],[ii] Prebiotics promote the development of good bacteria such as Bifidobacteria, and they strengthen the inner defense system to help it fight pathogens. As a building block to immune health, prebiotics are supplied during breastfeeding in the form of human milk oligosaccharides. If a formula is provided, it should contain proven prebiotics (such as inulin and oligofructose or galactooligosaccharides) to ensure the selective growth of Bifidobacteria (the dominant species in breastfed babies). 

While it is good to start as early as possible, it is never too late to support gut health and the inner defense system. Incorporating prebiotics into the diets of older generations should also be a key area of focus because, as people age, the gut microbiome changes, and the inner defense system is weakened. The benefits that nutrition can offer in supporting gut health and helping to strengthen the inner defense system is of increasing interest to older consumers, 

When it comes to food and drink, with consumption of only 3 grams per day of inulin or oligofructose, Bifidobacteria increase significantly and therefore support a person’s digestive health and overall well-being, while helping to keep their inner defense system in good shape. 

For producers looking to create solutions that support digestive health, prebiotics and chicory root fibers have been shown to support a healthy microbiota and the selective increase in bifidobacteria in more than 50 human intervention studies. Inulin and oligofructose are the only plant-based prebiotics. They belong to the very few proven prebiotics according to ISAPP (International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics) and are now officially on the list of approved dietary fibers published by the FDA.

Our industry has an important part to play in helping consumers pursue long-term health and as this World Digestive Health Day has shown, no one is too young or old to begin thinking about their digestive health.

[i] Lohner S, Jakobik V, Mihályi K et al. (2018) Inulin-type fructan supplementation of 3- to 6 year-old children is associated with higher fecal bifidobacterium concentrations and fewer febrile episodes requiring medical attention. J Nutr 148(8): 1300–1308.

[ii] Lohner S, Kullenberg D, Antes G et al. (2014) Prebiotics in healthy infants and children for prevention of acute infectious diseases: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutr Rev 72(8): 523–531.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent Dairy Foods or its parent, BNP Media.

Photos courtesy of BENEO.