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Recent studies have highlighted the fact that the enteric microbiome, the trillions of microbes that inhabit the human digestive tract, has a significant effect on health and disease. Methods for manipulating the enteric microbiome, particularly through probiotics and microbial ecosystem transplantation, have undergone some study in clinical trials. We review some of the evidence for microbiome alteration in relation to childhood disease and discuss the clinical trials that have examined the manipulation of the microbiome in an effort to prevent or treat childhood disease with a primary focus on probiotics, prebiotics, and/or synbiotcs
(ie, probiotics + prebiotics). Studies show that alterations in the microbiome may be a consequence of events occurring during infancy and/or childhood such as prematurity, C-sections, and nosocomial infections. In addition, certain childhood diseases have been associated with microbiome alterations, namely necrotizing enterocolitis, infantile colic, asthma, atopic disease, gastrointestinal disease, diabetes, malnutrition, mood/anxiety disorders, and autism spectrum disorders. Treatment studies suggest that probiotics are potentially protective against the development of some of these diseases. Timing and duration of treatment, the optimal probiotic strain(s), and factors that may alter the composition and function of the microbiome are still in need of further research. Other treatments such as prebiotics, fecal microbial transplantation, and antibiotics have limited evidence. Future translational work, in vitro models, long-term and follow-up studies, and guidelines for the composition and viability of probiotic and microbial therapies need to be developed. Overall, there is promising evidence that manipulating the microbiome with probiotics early in life can help prevent or reduce the severity of some childhood diseases, but further research is needed to elucidate biological mechanisms and determine optimal treatments.
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