On Your Health

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Probiotics and Children

What are probiotics?

It’s a simple question with a simple answer, but what probiotics do is anything but basic. While probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts, they aren’t the kind of bacteria you want to kill.

These live microorganisms are “friendly” bacteria that are part of a group of microorganisms called “microbiota” that live in your gut.

Microbiota, in turn, help keep your digestive system healthy. With more than 100 trillion bacteria living in the digestive system, probiotics are designed to help your body’s bacterial population and digestive tract work together and stay in balance, which supports a healthy immune system.

Though that’s a simplistic answer, our guts are anything but simple. And while adults may have heard about the benefits of using probiotics, the question of whether probiotics are safe for use in children hasn’t been discussed as often. Since March is National Nutrition Month, we wanted to explore the issue a little further.

Probiotics and Children

Children usually develop their body’s microbiome while in the womb and during early development. In fact, probiotics have been found in breast milk. However, science is still discovering what role probiotics play in keeping their systems healthy.

More research still needs to be done on probiotics (since the ideal probiotic and its composition is not yet clearly defined), but the medical community mostly agrees that the beneficial bacteria living inside children’s bodies are necessary parts of regulating their health.

A recent article from the Cleveland Clinic extolled the virtues of probiotics for kids. “So how can probiotics help your little one? For starters, they help relieve constipation, acid reflux, diarrhea symptoms and flatulence. Some research suggests they could also improve gut immunity and oral health, plus help manage eczema,” said the article.

There is medical research that does seem to back up these claims. A study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggested that giving infants up to 3 months old probiotics helped reduce constipation, acid reflux and colic in children. And in 2015, a research review from the National Institutes of Health suggested that probiotics were more effective than a placebo in reducing or shortening upper respiratory tract infections in children.

Another clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics said that adding probiotics or prebiotics to your child’s diet could possibly help with such issues as preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea or viral diarrhea. That report suggested probiotics are beneficial to healthy children and that kids of all ages could benefit from a diet that is high in probiotics if they are otherwise healthy.

Which probiotics are safe for children?

While many researchers believe that having a balanced microbiome is important in infants and children, the use of probiotics and their potential benefits needs more study, since some children can experience gas or bloating with probiotics.

Cow’s milk isn’t recommended for children to ingest until they are at least a year old, but yogurt is safe for babies between 4 and 8 months. However, you should always check with your pediatrician before adding any supplement or probiotic food to your child’s diet.

Children who are chronically ill or who have compromised immune systems should never be given probiotics due to the potential for serious side effects.

Tips for getting kids to take probiotics

Fruit-flavored chews and flavored drink mixes with probiotics made just for children can be found on almost any grocery shelf, and probiotics are also being offered in cereals, juices, snack bars and some infant formula. Once again, check with your pediatrician to see what probiotics she recommends.

If your child turns up a nose to those choices, foods like yogurt, miso soup, pickles, kimchi, sauerkraut and kefir have naturally occurring probiotics. In fact, most naturally-fermented foods are rich in probiotics, so stock up on those foods for your whole family.

While probiotics add another line of defense of good microorganisms to the body, they are not a digestive cure-all. Contact your INTEGRIS pediatrician for more information about probiotics for your child.

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