Probiotics have gained attention and popularity in recent decades due to scientific evidence indicating their positive effects on human health (1). They have been found to be useful for adults in maintaining gut health, which has encouraged some parents to use probiotics for kids too. But are they of any use to children?
In this post, MomJunction tells you if probiotics are required for children, how they can be useful, and the various food sources of probiotics.
What Are Probiotics?
The good bacteria that we need to maintain gut health are known as probiotics. The human gut has millions of microorganisms. Out of these, bacterial strains are the most important and are present as both good and bad bacteria. Probiotics are nonpathogenic, gut microorganisms that live in a symbiotic relationship with humans for mutual well-being (2).
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) have originally defined probiotics as “live strains of strictly selected microorganisms which when consumed in adequate amounts provide health benefits to the host” (3). The same definition was adopted by the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) in 2013.
Are Probiotics Safe?
Probiotics are generally regarded as safe. However, their use should be avoided in critically ill or immune-compromised patients. It should also be avoided in infants unless the doctor advises otherwise (4).
Probiotics found in food are safer. Similarly, there is usually no harm in adding up dietary supplements with probiotic benefits. But the overall health condition of the child should be good.
- The USFDA (Food and Drug Administration) regulates probiotics not as a medicine but as a food product. Therefore, it is not as strictly tested and monitored as medicines are.
- Probiotics are not an alternative to medication or treatment to address a health problem.
- Further research is needed to establish the claims made about the benefits of taking probiotics because most of the knowledge available pertains to Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium while not much is known about other probiotics.
Therefore, consult your child’s doctor to know about the type of bacteria and dosage to use so that you can avoid any side-effects. But as you do so, read the next section to know how probiotics are useful for your kid.
How Probiotics May Be Useful For Children
The benefit imparted by probiotics depends upon the type and the number of microorganisms present. Foods considered to be probiotic contain colonies of probiotic bacteria. The following are the benefits of probiotics for humans, including children.
- Probiotics help in maintaining healthy intestinal microbial balance in kids. This balance is important to have proper digestion and absorption of nutrients in the gut.
- Infections and diseases caused by infections are common in kids. So, preliminary evidence suggests that probiotics may help in preventing or treating conditions such as (5) (6) (7):
- Viral diarrhea
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Inflammatory bowel disease like ulcerative colitis
- Hay fever
- Colon inflammation
- Common cold
- Respiratory infections
- Certain allergies in kids are common, and some are specific. Probiotics have been documented effectiveness for kids with allergies, such as eczema and allergic rhinitis (8).
- Probiotics help maintain immunity in kids by boosting the production of antibodies in the body.
- Oral health is crucial. This is more of a concern for kids in special, so probiotics could help maintain oral health. It prevents oral diseases, such as dental caries and periodontal infections (9).
Types Of Probiotics: What To Choose?
The main bacterial strains regarded as safe are lactic acid and bifidobacteria. These stains naturally inhabit the intestinal tracts of humans and animals. Some of the most commonly used probiotics are lactic acid bacteria – also found in the small intestine, bifidobacteria – also found in the large intestine, streptococcus thermophilus and a yeast named saccharomyces boulardii (10).
Food Sources Of Probiotics
Foods are the best sources of probiotics because they are natural. The various probiotic food options for your child are:
- Yogurt: One of the probiotic sources which have gained momentum in the commercial domain. The probiotic content of yogurt may help relieve irritable bowel syndrome and may also help in reducing diarrhea as caused by antibiotics generally. It generally suits kids who cannot tolerate milk products as the bacteria in yogurt breaks down the lactose into lactic acid, making it less likely to cause bloating (11).
- Cheeses: You may also try cheeses including mozzarella, cheddar, gouda, and cottage cheese which too could provide probiotics (12).
- Buttermilk: The liquid skimmed after making butter is served as buttermilk in India. Only the traditional drink contains probiotics and not the cultured ones. It has vitamin B12, calcium and some other minerals (13).
- Unpasteurized sauerkraut: Sauerkraut is the shredded sour cabbage. The bacteria on the surface of the cabbage ferment the natural sugars of the vegetable into lactic acid. And lactic acid prevents the growth of harmful microbes. It is a potential source of probiotics and several important vitamins (14).
- Kefir: The fermented milk-drink is produced by lactic acid bacteria and yeasts, which are friendly to the human body. It is tolerated by kids who are lactose intolerant. Kefir may help improve digestion and offer protection against infections (15).
- Some other sources of probiotics are:
- Kombucha (a fermented tea drink)
- Fermented soya bean products like tempeh and natto
- Fermented vegetables
Note: Some probiotic foods may be allergy triggers. If your child has lactose intolerance, milk allergy, or soy allergy, then consult a doctor before introducing milk-based and soy-based probiotics in a child’s diet.
In addition to foods, probiotics are also available in the form of supplements. Before knowing about supplements to use, let’s see how to choose the right one for your child.
Do Children Need Probiotic Supplements?
Probiotic supplements should not be used unless directed by a pediatrician. It is always advisable to focus on probiotic food sources rather than relying on a supplement. Probiotics are useful in maintaining a healthy gut and immune system, but they should not be given to your child indiscriminately. Let’s know why.
Possible Side-Effects Of Probiotics
- They could result in minor digestive problems such as bloating or flatulence.
- Yeast-based probiotics may result in constipation.
- Lactose intolerant kids can have indigestion and gas from milk-based probiotics.
- Some probiotics contain amines, which may stimulate the nervous system leading to a fluctuation in the blood flow and cause headaches.
- Harmful metabolic activities such as d-lactate production and bile salt deconjugation.
- Excessive immune stimulation possibly leading to autoimmune phenomena or inflammation.
- Lateral gene transfer from probiotic organisms to other organisms resulting in antimicrobial resistance. However, there is no clinical evidence to this effect.
- Sometimes it can lead to some infection that needs antibiotic treatment. Such cases happen mostly in children with underlying health problems.
You may note that the effects depend on how your child’s body reacts to the ingredients in the probiotics. Moreover, these side-effects are specific to certain probiotics, and not common to all of them.
Do All Probiotics Have The Same Effectiveness On Every Child?
No. Probiotics differ from one another, and so are their effects. The effectiveness of a probiotic depends on the specific strain of bacteria and the defined dose of the probiotic microorganisms (19). This efficiency cannot be extrapolated to other strains, not even very closely related strains.
Also, there is no definite dose recommendation that suits everyone.
Although probiotics have health benefits, they are still not tested as medicine but only as a food product. Therefore, consult your child’s healthcare provider before giving your child probiotics.
Have you been giving probiotic supplements to your child or using probiotic food sources? Let us know in the comment section below.
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