Much has been said recently (in both science and popular media) about the importance of a healthy microbiome–referring to the microscopic community of bacteria, both good and bad, that we host in our bodies throughout our lives.We depend on the extensive assortment and vast quantity of microbes to not only support gastrointestinal health, but also the immune system, the coronary system, and other metabolic functions.
Not long ago, it was thought that babies were born without gut microflora—a totally sterile digestive system, which begins populating at birth. However, new research has shown that nature’s efforts to begin filling the infant gut with a healthy balance of bacteria actually starts in the womb.
In fact, that gathering of microbiomes from the mother continues through the birth process, with naturally-born infants benefiting from specific bacteria found in the birth canal. Unfortunately, babies born by Cesarean section lack these bacteria.
Likewise, there is a difference in gut microflora between babies who have been exclusively breastfed, versus those have been exclusively formula fed, or a combination of both.
Why is that important? It is important because, while the infant formula industry has worked hard to make formula as close as possible to human breast milk, it has not as yet been able to replicate the complex sequence of microbial events that take place when breast milk enters the baby’s system.
And there is more. Even breastfed babies in today’s industrialized world may have a less than optimal microbiota because, scientists believe, adult diets have far less fiber today than our ancestors, which has discouraged, and in some cases, even made extinct, species of the good bacteria that regulate many of our systems in ways that may not yet be known.
Where does Fiber – particularly Chicory Root Fiber – come in?
In an effort to help babies, and young children, enhance their developing microflora, some manufacturers have begun to add chicory root fiber to infant formula and baby food. Chicory root fiber is a safe and natural ingredient that is not digested but fermented in the colon. This process causes the chicory root fiber to act as a prebiotic, supporting the development of additional healthy bacteria in the baby’s developing digestive system.
Research on chicory root fiber has been ongoing for 20 years, and unlike other natural fibers, the prebiotic effect of chicory root fiber is clinically proven.
To ensure that your young ones are getting this powerful prebiotic benefit talk to your pediatrician about fiber-rich nutritional options for you and your baby, and consider infant formulas and baby foods that contain chicory root fibers – also listed in the ingredients as inulin or oligofructose.