Regularly drinking probiotic milk, with the addition of so-called "friendly" Lactobacillus GG (LGG) bacteria, can protect children from respiratory infections, according to a scientific report published in the British Medical Journal (2001; pp.322, 1327-1329, 1318-1319).

In the study, carried out over a seven-month period by Finnish researchers at the Valio Research and Development unit in Helsinki, 571 children aged between one to six years drank at least 22ml per day of either probiotic or regular milk. All of the children attended day care, where they would traditionally have suffered higher illness rates than those looked after at home,

On average, the researchers found that the children drinking lactobacillus spent one day less than the others absent from the day care groups. The bacteria, which are naturally present in the gut, can also be used to help regulate the presence of harmful microbes, and the study found that there was a 17% reduction in those suffering more serious respiratory tract infections.

Study author Dr. Riitta Korpela commented: "Probiotics may be of value in maintaining health and reducing risk of infections in healthy, normal children."

"A probiotic therapy could be one possibility in reducing infections in children," she added: "The administration of probiotic milk is an easy and acceptable method, with no adverse effects."

The results are the latest in a number of studies suggesting that there are health benefits to be gleaned through consuming probiotic supplements. Other nutritionists have counselled caution however, pointing out that the jury is still out on how well probiotics can protect consumers from disease.