Probiotics have long been most parent’s go-to solution for diarrhea in children. This is because, aside from being recommended by pediatricians, probiotics are generally safe for children – even infants.
Probiotics are microorganisms that are also called the “good bacteria” because they offer plenty of benefits for the human body, especially to the digestive system. Probiotics are widely available all over the world, particularly in products like yogurt and dietary supplements containing microorganisms that are quite similar to those that exist naturally in the gut.
Whether you’re a parent or you simply want to learn about probiotics, you are likely to have many questions that need to be answered. This article covers some of the basic information about probiotics, particularly in relation to child consumption.
1. What are probiotics?
As mentioned earlier, probiotics are living microorganisms that are present in several food products and supplements, including fermented foods.
Over the years, researchers and scientists have been trying to understand the true nature of probiotics and discern their effects on human health.
As of this writing, several studies revealed that bacterial imbalance in the gut increases the risk of diseases in this particular part of the body. Since probiotics are known to promote balance in gut bacteria, probiotic products are believed to be beneficial for digestive and overall health.
2. How do probiotics work?
Probiotics live in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. When we consume food, the probiotics feed off of the bacteria that come with the food.
Because probiotics also get sustenance from existing bacteria in the gut, they effectively prevent bad bacteria from multiplying and causing an imbalance.
Also, the abundance of the so-called good bacteria leaves no room for bad bacteria – literally – thereby reducing the chances of bad bacteria multiplying. In addition, probiotics use up all the sources of nourishment, leaving harmful bacteria with nothing to feed on.
On top of that, certain strains of these live microorganisms have antibacterial properties that can help eradicate unwanted bacteria. Some studies also show that probiotics help people with overactive immune systems that cause food allergies by decreasing antibody activities when necessary.
3. How can children benefit from probiotics?
While it is true that more studies are needed, probiotics are known to provide many health advantages for people, especially children. In fact, most experts agree that these live microorganisms are necessary for good overall health.
To understand this more, below are the three vital health benefits of probiotics:
a. Probiotics prevent and treat diarrhea
Probiotics are believed to prevent or reduce the severity of diarrhea for kids and adults alike. This has been supported by several studies, as follows:
- Diarrhea can come as a side effect for the intake of antibiotics because it tends to tip the balance between good and bad bacteria in the gut. Taking probiotics can help alleviate antibiotic-induced diarrhea and reduce its emergence by 42 percent, based on a systematic review published in 2012.
- Other forms of diarrhea can also be eased using probiotics, particularly acute infectious diarrhea. This claim is supported by a study conducted by experts from the School of Medicine at Swansea University in Australia, which compiled and reviewed 35 studies on the matter.
- Probiotics have also been used as a preventive treatment for travelers’ diarrhea, reducing the risk by 8 percent.
However, it is worth noting that the effectiveness of probiotics may vary, depending on the amount per dosage and the type of probiotic taken. Three specific strains are commonly linked to diarrhea prevention, namely: Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and Saccharomyces boulardii.
b. Probiotics reduce the risk of acquiring digestive disorders
Aside from preventing diarrhea, taking probiotics can also help reduce the chances of acquiring other digestive disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease, Clostridium difficile infection, and Crohn’s disease.
Specific probiotics under the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains also offer relief for people who have mild ulcerative colitis. A 2004 study from a German scientist even found that using the E. coli Nissle probiotic as a supplementary treatment for ulcerative colitis helped patients stay in remission.
Earlier research also found that probiotics help ease irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms. What’s more, these live microorganisms can lower the possibility of contracting necrotizing enterocolitis – a fatal bowel disorder in premature infants – by as much as 50 percent.
c. Probiotics boost immunity
Aside from the well-documented effects of probiotics on the digestive system, these products also offer added support for the immune system by inhibiting the growth of bad bacteria in the gut. In fact, research found that more than 570 children who took Lactobacillus GG suffered 17 percent less from respiratory infections.
Lactobacillus crispatus, on the other hand, also halved the chances of women from acquiring urinary tract infections (UTIs).
In some cases, probiotics boost the production of immune cells as well, particularly the T lymphocytes and IgA-producing cells.
4. Do probiotics have any side effects?
Although it is considered generally safe, probiotic consumption may come with adverse effects. This is particularly true for children with compromised immune systems who may suffer from infection, gas, or bloating. It would be wise to consult a doctor first before giving probiotics to very sick babies.
Furthermore, the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) categorized probiotics as a food product rather than a medicine. This is why manufacturers are not required to indicate whether such products are effective as a form of remedy.
Even so, countless studies attest to the general safety of taking probiotics. Most of these products have Bifidobacterium, lactobacillus, or saccharomyces – all of which are known to be beneficial for the human body. In some cases, all three are combined into one product to produce the best effect.
Still, parents should talk to a pediatrician about the topic of probiotics for children. This should be done before making probiotic products a permanent part of their diet or prior to using them as a supplementary treatment for any kind of health problem.
A Final Word: Pro-Health, Probiotics
As the prefix “pro” implies, probiotics are essentially good for your child’s health. Reading up on the different studies and testimonies on the subject can help you make an informed decision on whether giving probiotics to your little one is the right choice.