Probiotics for Children: Parent FAQs


WHAT ARE PROBIOTICS AND PREBIOTICS?

Probiotics are foods or supplements that contain living microorganisms (usually bacteria) that are similar to the bacteria that live in our guts naturally. These bacteria are also called 'good bacteria'.  If given in correct doses, probiotics will improve the balance of healthy bacteria in a person's gut (microbiome) resulting in health benefits. The most common bacteria in probiotics are Lactobacillus (abbreviated 'L') and Bifidobacterium (abreviated 'B').

Prebiotics are foods or supplements that contain indigestible fibers that feed the good bacteria in the gut. Examples are the oligosaccharides in breast milk, honey, onions, asparagus, bananas, soy beans, maple sugar, oats and fructo-oligosaccharides.

DOES BREASTMILK CONTAIN PROBIOTICS AND PREBIOTICS?

There are prebiotics in breastmilk called oligosaccharides. These feed the good bacteria in an infant's gut and help to extablish a healthy gut microbiome. There may be some probiotic bacteria in breastmilk, but this has not been clearly established. We do know that infants who are breast fed develop a healthy gut flora similar to the mom's.

ARE PROBIOTICS AND PREBIOTICS FOUND IN FORMULAS?

Some infant formulas contain prebiotic oligosaccharides and probiotics. They are safe for healthy infants, but are not recommended for chronically ill or immunocompromised infants.

WHAT IS THE GUT MICROBIOME?

Microbiome is the name that has been given to the more than 100 trillion bacteria, viruses and fungi that live in our intestines and help with many functions in our bodies. The many functions and the communications with other parts of our bodies are complicated, but a healthy gut helps to prevent infections, regulates our immune system and helps to reduce allergies. These good bacteria regulate digestion, metabolism and elimination. They help to reduce inflammation in our bodies and change some vitamins into active forms. Most surprisingly, they communicate back and forth with our brains to affect our mood and other brain functions.

WHAT MAKES THE GUT MICROBIOME UNHEALTHY?

Preterm and C-section births cause a shaky start to the health of an infant's microbiome. A vaginal birth exposes the infant to the mother's vaginal and gut flora. The type of delivery influences the infant's gut flora in the first few days of life and after birth the flora is affected by the kind of feedings they receive. Breast fed infants show a predominance of Bifidobacteria which is because of human specific prebiotics in breast milk. Antibiotics, poor diet and stress also have a negative effect on the health of the gut flora.

WHEN WOULD A PEDIATRICIAN RECOMMEND PROBIOTIC SUPPLEMENTS?

The best research so far suggests that probiotics may be useful for the following:

Diarrhea caused by viruses (L. rhamnosus GG, L. acidophilus, S. boulardii)

Diarrhea caused by antibiotics (S. bouldardii, L. rhamnosus GG, L. planetarium 299v)

Inflammatory bowel disease (VSL #3, L. planetarum, L. rhamnosus GG)

Prevention of upper respiratory infections (L. acidophilus, L. rhamnosus GG)

Colic in babies (L. reuteri)

Allergic conditions like eczema and hay feever

Tooth decay

Studies have shown that moms who supplement during pregnancy with Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus have babies with a lower risk for eczema.

DO PROBIOTICS BENEFIT HEALTHY CHILDREN?

When the ratio of good gut bacteria is altered, like for example, when your chld has diarrhea from an antibiotic or a virus, taking probiotics can help to shorten the symptoms. Probiotics may also help to prevent infections, like colds and improve a child's immune function.

HOW DO I CHOOSE A GOOD PROBIOTIC FOR MY CHILD?

www.consumerlab.com evaluates supplements to see if they contain what they claim, so you can look up brands on that website. Make sure the label has a Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) seal. Labels should list the full name of the microorganism and how many are in a dose. For example, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG 10 billion CFUs (colony forming units). Lactobacillus is abbreviated as 'L' and Bifidobacterium as 'B'. A fungus tht has several benefits is Saccharomyces boulardii.

WHAT ARE EXAMPOLES OF FOODS THAT CONTAIN PROBIOTICS?

Examples of foods that have live, good bacteria are yogurt with live cultures, kefir, kombucha tea, kimchi, fermented sauerkraut and brined pickles.

WHAT DOSE OF PROBIOTICS DO I GIVE MY CHILD?

Note: When eating probiotic containing foods, you do not need to worry about dosage.

Dosing for children is 1-10 billion CFUs for infants and toddlers and 10-20 billion CFUs for older children. The dose for Saccharomyces bouldardii is 250 mg twice a day for chldren under 2 yearl old and 500 mg twice a day for chldren over 2 years old. The probiotics must be given consistently. Capsules can be swallowed or opened into food or drinks. Some probiotics come in powdered forms.

HOW LONG SHOULD I GIVE PROBIOTICS TO MY CHILD?

More research is needed, but it is thought to take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months to fully restore healthy bacteria. For more chronic diseases like irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn's disease, a person may need probiotics for longer. If your child is taking antibiotics, start probiotics at the same time, but give them at least two hours apart from the antibiotics and continue for 2-4 weeks after the antibiotic is finished. 

ARE THERE SIDE EFFECTS FROM PROBIOTICS?

The most common side effects are gas and bloating. Avoid giving them to a critically ill or immunocompromised child.

Author
Dr. Cheri Standing

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