Should Your Child Take Probiotics?

This supplement can help soothe your little one's tummy troubles
Child eating yogurt

From the supplements aisle to granola bars, yogurt and cereal, probiotics are popping up in more places than ever before. These live microorganisms found in certain yeasts are essentially beneficial bacteria and are similar to probiotics that exist naturally in the gut. They’re believed to be good for overall health, but more specifically, the digestive system. But are they good for your child? 

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Our gut harbors billions of bacteria, and the good bacteria is believed to overwhelm the unhealthy bacteria, ultimately keeping us healthy, says pediatric gastroenterologist Kadakkal Radhakrishnan, MD

“Probiotics add another layer of good microorganisms to the already existing good ones,” Dr. Radhakrishnan explains. “The basic premise of using probiotics is to restore the relative population of good gut flora, which can promote optimal health. Although probiotics aren’t a digestive cure-all, they can be highly beneficial for kids and adults.”

The benefits of probiotics

Although research is still needed on probiotics (since the ideal probiotic and what it would be made of isn’t yet known), Dr. Radhakrishnan says we do know that the beneficial bacteria that lives inside us is a necessary part of regulating our health.

“So when the ratio of good bacteria is altered – for example, after a necessary use of antibiotics – probiotics can help replace good bacteria in the body, he says.

If your child has an ear infection or diarrhea-causing illness that calls for antibiotics, taking a probiotic can actually help shorten the symptoms, Dr. Radhakrishnan says. Plus, probiotics may keep your children healthy by decreasing the number of bacteria in the gut that can cause infections or inflammation.

The basic premise of using probiotics is to restore the relative population of good glut flora, which can promote optimal health.

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So how can probiotics help your little one? For starters, they may help relieve constipation, acid reflux, diarrhea symptoms and gas. Some research suggests they could also improve gut immunity and oral health, plus help manage eczema.

Other medical conditions where probiotics may have benefits include:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Crohn’s disease.
  • Infectious diarrhea, including Clostridium difficile infection (also called C-diff).

It’s important to note that, in the above conditions, probiotics should not be used as the main   treatment and should only be used alongside standard medical treatment.

Are probiotics safe?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates probiotics as a food product and not as a medicine, so probiotic products are not mandated to show that they’re safe or effective.

However, probiotics are generally safe. Most probiotics contain lactobacillus, bifidobacterium or saccharomyces – or sometimes, a combination of the three.

Although most products show the concentration of the ingredients, the exact quantity delivered to the small and large intestine is unknown, and therefore, the ideal dose is unclear.

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“Because of this, I strongly urge parents to talk with their child’s pediatrician to discuss potential choices of probiotics before starting one,” Dr. Radhakrishnan says. “There are many probiotic supplements available over the counter, and a pediatrician can help you choose the right one.”

How to pick a probiotic

Dietary probiotic supplements are available in capsules, tablets, powders and liquid extracts, and they each contain a specific type of probiotic. You can find these products at health food stores, vitamin shops and your local pharmacy or grocery store.

If you’re wary about your child taking a probiotic in supplement form, you can opt for foods that contain probiotics instead. Yogurt is one of the best sources of probiotics — just make sure the label says “live or active cultures.”

Other foods that contain a healthy dose of probiotics include sauerkraut, soft cheeses (like Gouda), pickles, tempeh and buttermilk.

Whether you decide to give your child probiotics in supplement or food form, again, remember to consult with a pediatrician first – and do your own research. Probiotics won’t cure any of your child’s ailments, but the supplement can provide major health benefits — making it worth the consideration.

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