You may have passed them in the natural food aisle of your local grocery store or seen a reference to them in your favorite healthy lifestyle blog – probiotics.
Many adults use these supplements to help regulate their digestive system. Some claim that probiotics can help with conditions like eczema and even yeast infections.
But probiotics don’t always work the same for children.
“Probiotics are helpful in keeping your digestive tract healthy,” says Dr Joy Drass, pediatrician at Geisinger Port Matilda. “But it’s important to know which probiotics you can give your child, because they may not work the same way they do in adults.”
Probiotics are good bacteria
Your body is home to billions of organisms like bacteria, fungi and yeast. Most of these organisms are harmless, and many help your body function properly – they make up what is called the human microbiome.
“Probiotics are one of the helpful ‘good bacteria’ that make up your microbiome,” explains Dr Drass. “They come in supplement form, but they’re also naturally present in some foods.”
These fermented and aged foods are packed with probiotics:
• Cottage cheese
Your kids probably get most of their probiotic intake from yogurt.
The benefits of probiotics
By replenishing the good bacteria in your body, probiotics aid digestion and immune system function – and may even help treat or prevent certain illnesses.
They are especially useful for diarrhea or constipation – both of which are common in children, especially during toilet training. Probiotics can also help relieve some of the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease.
Children who are already taking antibiotics may also benefit from probiotics. Antibiotics can cause stomach pain, constipation, or diarrhea, and probiotics can lessen these side effects. But not all probiotics work when taking antibiotics. So talk to your child’s pediatrician or pharmacist to find out which probiotic is best for your child.
Should Children Eat Probiotic Foods?
Some studies suggest that probiotics may be good for children. One study found that children who received probiotics every day for 3 months were less likely to have breathing problems and diarrhea than children who received a placebo.
And although more research is needed, probiotics may reduce the risk for children of developing certain conditions such as autoimmune diseases, allergies, and asthma.
On the other hand, some researchers note that probiotics may not have much of an effect on children. Because their microbiome is not fully developed, probiotics can simply be passed on as normal waste.
Probiotics are considered safe for children – with a few exceptions, notes Dr. Drass. “You should avoid giving your child probiotics if they have a weakened immune system or cancer, or if they are premature. In these cases, probiotics can put them at risk for infections. “
In general, it’s best for children to get probiotics through food rather than supplements, unless their pediatrician recommends otherwise. Talk to your child’s doctor if you are thinking about using probiotics to help your child’s digestion – because their main concern is keeping your child safe and healthy.