Manufacturers have espoused the virtues of true probiotics for years, and consumers are not only buying in, they’re buying them in droves. Americans spent about $1.4 billion on them in 2014 alone.1 But while most of the attention is focused on how probiotics can potentially help improve the digestive health of adults, there hasn’t been nearly as much discussion on how they might be able to help children. Let’s take a look and see if you should consider giving probiotics to your kids.
True Probiotics for Children
While you’ve no doubt seen ads regarding probiotics for adults, there are some brands that are geared specifically toward children. True probiotics come in many different forms, including drinks, powders, and capsules. Gummies and other chewable products are on store shelves as well.
One of the reasons true probiotics are so popular is that they are designed to help bolster the number of beneficial microbes in the gastrointestinal tract. There is a constant fight going on inside your body between beneficial and harmful bacteria. When the balance between the two gets out of whack, that can lead to several health issues, such as a compromised immune system, diarrhea and other digestive problems, allergies, and more.
The “microbiome” is the collection of all microorganisms that reside in the body. It begins to develop in utero, and slowly strengthens through childhood. But there are a lot of factors that can affect how this development takes place. Antibiotics, for example, can affect the microbiome by killing vast numbers of bacteria. While these powerful medications can wipe out a lot of diseases, they also deplete our supply of beneficial bacteria. The body needs reinforcements when this happens.
How Can True Probiotics Help My Child?
It can be challenging to say the least to try and determine what type of true probiotics are right for your child, as well as what amounts to give and how often. It can even be tough to figure out exactly how your child will benefit.
While probiotics can be beneficial, they’re not magic. They won’t guarantee that your child will be in perfect health. But they have been shown to be effective in helping to address certain problems.
For example, just about every child will experience a bout of diarrhea at one time or another. Clinical studies have shown that probiotics may be able to reduce symptoms faster. One particular study suggests that giving a child probiotics could bring relief about 24 hours sooner. The Lactobacillus GG bacteria and Saccharomyces boulardii yeast have been identified as the beneficial microbes that are most responsible.2
Colic is another condition that commonly affects infants, and some research suggests that gastrointestinal issues can play a role in causing it. A clinical trial in 2014 involved hundreds of newborn children who were given a probiotic or a placebo. According to the results, the babies with the probiotic regurgitated less often and cried about 50 percent less than the ones who did not receive the probiotic. In addition, they needed fewer trips to the emergency room for issues related to colic.3
Other Potential Benefits
There is some other research that suggests true probiotics could also provide some respiratory system benefits for children as well. One study analyzed 12 clinical trials, with seven of these involving children. Researchers found that children taking probiotics containing Lactobacillus GG had approximately 50 percent fewer infections of the respiratory tract.4
Another area where probiotics show promise is in helping reduce allergy symptoms. There is a train of scientific thought, referred to as the “hygiene hypothesis,” that believes children in developed countries are at a higher risk of problems such as allergies because they are not exposed to enough beneficial bacteria during infancy and early childhood.5 This is due, in large part, to the fact that sanitation practices have improved substantially, food products contain fewer bacteria than ever before, and the use of antibiotics has increased.
As a result of a lack of beneficial bacteria, according to the theory, the immune system doesn’t develop properly and will attack seemingly harmless substances such as pollen, peanuts, and others. There is research that suggests probiotics could play a role in helping to reduce the development of certain types of allergies, because they increase the amount of good bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.6
Are There Risks?
While true probiotics are generally thought to be extremely safe for both adults and children, there are some instances where they could pose some risks. For example, people with severe health problems probably should not take probiotics, because they could cause illnesses in those with compromised immune systems. It is always recommended that people talk to their doctor first before they give any sort of true probiotics to their children.
The bottom line is that while true probiotics appear to provide substantial benefits for children, the jury is still largely out when it comes to definitive scientific research. But it won’t hurt to stock up, just in case your child starts to show signs of digestive issues.