It has become clear in recent years that the human intestinal microbiota plays an important role in maintaining health and thus is an attractive target for clinical interventions. Scientists and clinicians have become increasingly interested in assessing the ability of probiotics and prebiotics to enhance the nutritional status of malnourished children, pregnant women, the elderly, and individuals with non-communicable disease-associated malnutrition. A workshop was held by the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP), drawing on the knowledge of experts from industry, medicine, and academia, with the objective to assess the status of our understanding of the link between the microbiome and under-nutrition, specifically in relation to probiotic and prebiotic treatments for under-nourished individuals. These discussions led to four recommendations:
(1) The categories of malnourished individuals need to be differentiated
To improve treatment outcomes, subjects should first be categorized based on the cause of malnutrition, additional health-concerns, differences in the gut microbiota, and sociological considerations.
(2) Define a baseline “healthy” gut microbiota for each category
Altered nutrient requirement (for example, in pregnancy and old age) and individual variation may change what constitutes a healthy gut microbiota for the individual.
(3) Perform studies using model systems to test the effectiveness of potential probiotics and prebiotics against these specific categories
These should illustrate how certain microbiota profiles can be altered, as members of different categories may respond differently to the same treatment.
(4) Perform robust well-designed human studies with probiotics and/or prebiotics, with appropriate, defined primary outcomes and sample size
These are critical to show efficacy and understand responder and non-responder outcomes. It is hoped that these recommendations will lead to new approaches that combat malnutrition.
This report is the result of discussion during an expert workshop titled “How do the microbiota and probiotics and/or prebiotics influence poor nutritional status?” held during the 10th Meeting of the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) in Cork, Ireland from October 1–3, 2012. The complete list of workshop attendees is shown in Table 1.