You may have passed them in the health food aisle at your local grocery store or seen a reference to them in your favorite healthy living blog – probiotics.
Many adults use these supplements to help regulate their digestive systems. Some claim that probiotics can help with conditions like eczema, and even yeast infections.
But probiotics don’t always work the same for children. When it comes to giving your child probiotics, here’s what you need to know.
Probiotics are good bacteria
Your body is home to billions of organisms like bacteria, fungi, and yeasts. Most of these organisms are harmless and many help your body work properly – they form what’s called the human microbiome.
Probiotics are some of the helpful “good bacteria” that make up your microbiome. Besides coming in the form of a dietary supplement, they occur naturally in certain foods.
These fermented and aged foods are packed with probiotics:
• Cottage cheese
Your kids likely get most of their probiotic intake from yogurt.
The benefits of probiotics
By replenishing your body’s good bacteria, probiotics help with digestion and immune-system function – and may even help treat or prevent certain diseases.
They’re especially helpful for diarrhea or constipation, both of which are common for kids, especially during potty training. Probiotics may help ease some of the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease as well.
Children already taking antibiotics can benefit from probiotics, too. Antibiotics can cause stomach pain, constipation or diarrhea, and probiotics can ease these side effects. But not all probiotics are effective while taking antibiotics, so talk to your child’s pediatrician or pharmacist about 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 were given probiotics every day for three months were less likely to have respiratory problems and diarrhea than children who were given a placebo.
And while more research is needed, probiotics may reduce children’s risk of developing certain conditions like autoimmune diseases, allergies, and asthma.
On the other hand, some researchers note that probiotics may not have much effect on children. Because their microbiome isn’t fully developed, probiotics may simply be passed as normal waste.
Probiotics are considered safe for kids. However, you shouldn’t give your child probiotics if they have a compromised immune system or cancer, or if they are a premature infant. In these cases, probiotics can put them at risk for infections.
In general, it’s better for kids to get probiotics through foods instead of supplements unless their pediatrician recommends otherwise. Talk to your child’s doctor if you’re thinking about using probiotics to help your child’s digestion – because keeping your child safe and healthy is their prime concern.
Joy Drass, MD, is a pediatrician at Geisinger Port Matilda. To schedule a consultation with Dr. Drass or for more information on pediatric care at Geisinger, visit geisinger.org/KidsHealth or call (866) 210-6699.
This column appears in the April 2021 issue of Town&Gown.