Yogurt Found to Reduce Children's Infections

A study found probiotic yogurt could cut rates of common infections in children.

ByABC News
May 19, 2010, 10:45 AM

May 19, 2010— -- Parents who want to reduce the number of coughs, stomach aches and infections in their children may want to reach for the probiotic yogurt, according to the results of a new study.

Researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center enrolled more than 600 children, ages 3-6, in a study to see if the strain of bacteria, Lactobasillus casei DN 114-001, could have an effect on common infectious diseases.

Parents in the study agreed to feed a drinkable yogurt regularly to their children. Half of the families received traditional yogurt and half received the probiotic yogurt, or yogurt that has beneficial bacteria. The parents did not know which type of yogurt they had.

By the end of the three-month study, the children who received the probiotic yogurt had 24 percent fewer gastrointestinal infections and 18 percent fewer upper respiratory infections than children who were getting regular yogurt.

"While it's probably the largest study [of its kind] in the U.S., it really wasn't done in the lab stetting," said Dr. Daniel Merenstein, lead author of the study published today in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Merenstein said the advantage of the study, which was funded by The Dannon Company, was that they didn't measure for markers of disease, but actual coughs and stomach troubles that parents would notice.

"It's data that's interesting to parents, this is data they reported," he said.

In February, The Dannon Company was ordered by a judge in Cleveland, Ohio, to pay up to $45 million for allegedly making unsupported claims about the health benefits of its probiotic yogurt.

The study didn't examine exactly how the beneficial bacteria in the yogurt prevented infections. But, Merenstein said, other studies have shown probiotics to have a general effect on the immune system and have improved asthma and eczema symptoms.

"Most yogurt has starter cultures, they have two probiotics that make it easier for people who have problems digesting milk," said Merenstein. "Besides that they don't do much for infections because they die pretty much when they hit the stomach."

Dannon has an obvious interest in selling yogurt, but Dr. Clifford Bassett, medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York, said he's not terribly bothered by the fact that the company funded the study.