The conference, which was held in collaboration with the private sector’s Sandoz, brought together specialists to discuss the reasons behind the the lack of good bacteria in children's bodies and natural ways to combat the problem, as well as the introduction of new drugs in the field of probiotics.
Although the words ‘probiotics’ and ‘prebiotics’ might sound like academic terms to some ears, they are now actually quite familiar everyday terms to the public in Egypt as well as worldwide, with doctors and nutritionists hailing their enormous benefits.
Dr. Ehab Khairy, a professor of paediatrics at Ain Shams University, told Ahram Online at the conference that probiotics are bacteria cells naturally found in certain kinds of yoghurts and commonly processed pickles and can be added to food or taken as supplements.
“As for prebiotics, these are naturally occurring in certain kinds of food and they benefit and feed existent probiotics, as the latter can easily digest prebiotics to stay alive. That is why it is rather dangerous to abuse antibiotics, which wipe out good and bad bacteria without differentiating between them,” Khairy explained.
Good bacteria revisited
“Contrary to many people’s conception, bacteria are not necessarily associated with harm,” said Dr. Sherif Aly Abdel-Aal, general secretary and executive director of the EPA and professor of paediatrics at Cairo University.
“Actually, our bodies are a host to numerous kinds of bacteria of which many are in the gastro-intestinal tract, and their main task is to help the process of digestion take place and assist the movement of food," Abdel-Aal said.
He added that tampering with the bacteria inside the bodies of children is a result of a number of reasons that stem out of deeply rooted misconceptions in our society.
“These bacteria, of which almost five hundred species are in the gastro-intestinal tract, assist the movement of food along the intestines and look after the membrane of the gut, thus boosting immunity levels. They also help balance the bad bacteria that can cause thrush, bladder infections, and diarrhoea. Probiotics are micro-organisms similar to those found in the gut,” he explained.
“The microbiome is made up of more than 500 different species and accounts for around 100 trillion cells, and a baby’s natural state is compromised due to C-section births, lack of natural breast feeding, excessive use of antibiotics, and poor food hygiene,” he added.
C-section births spike
One of the main reasons behind the imbalance in bacteria within children’s bodies as highlighted by the panel was the spike in the percentage of caesarean births in Egypt and worldwide.
Globally, caesarean rates have increased from seven percent in 1990 to 21 percent in 2014, while in Egypt, the latest data from 2019 shows that caesarean births have reached 52.5 percent of all births.
“Infants born through c-sections have a lower total microbiota diversity. Compared to vaginally delivered babies, c-section delivered babies have abnormal development of immunity and 70–80 percent of immune cells are present in the gut," Abdel-Aal said.
“Passage through the birth canal affords the baby a microbiota similar to the mother’s vagina, while c-section babies’ microbiota resemble the mother’s skin and environmental microbes, which are usually too sanitised in the event the delivery was in a hospital,” he added.
The panel moved on to another common problem associated with imbalances in bacteria in new-borns.
‘‘Diarrhoea is a serious cause of infant morbidity and mortality two percent of childhood deaths in 2015 could be attributed to diarrhoea, which translates to one childhood death every 60 seconds. This can be caused by the rotavirus or intestinal infections for example,” said Dr. Ahmed Badr, a paediatrician at the Faculty of Medicine at Cairo University.
“Moreover, treatment with antibiotics may cause a disturbance of the gastrointestinal microbiota, leading to vomiting and diarrhoea,” Badr added.
Representatives of the private sector pharmaceutical stake holder Sandoz explained the benefits of new treatments — probiotics ingested in the form of dietary supplements that support the balance and function of useful intestinal microflora, protect against diarrhoea, and increase the body’s resistance to common infections by strengthening specific immune responses.
The panel concluded by stressing that probiotics have enormous benefits and that it is high time to put an end to deeply rooted unhealthy habits and misconceptions that contribute to the problem of the lack of good bacteria in infants, encouraging raising awareness regarding the importance of natural breast feeding, natural birth, good and hygienic nutrition, and stopping the excessive use of antibiotics.