Are There Health Benefits of Probiotics for Children?

You may be aware that probiotics can benefit adults but wonder if they are good for children as well. Probiotics are commonly referred to as “good bacteria,” or the kind that sits in your gut and helps with food digestion. They also can help attack germs that cause sickness. 

It’s unclear if a developing child’s body can use probiotics to its benefit. Probiotics may just pass through their systems like regular waste. But it’s possible they can help kids.

The human body’s microbiome is made up of probiotics, bad bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Probiotics can help maintain the right balance to help you stay healthy.

There are two main types of probiotics available as supplements or naturally in certain foods:

Lactobacillus. This type of probiotic is on yogurt labels, but it’s also found in fermented foods. These “good bacteria” are especially helpful for people who have trouble digesting lactose as well as helping with the occasional bout of diarrhea in kids.

Bifidobacterium. A yeast known as Saccharomyces boulardii falls under this category and can be used as an alternative therapy for some digestive problems. 

How Do Probiotics Work?

These good bacteria help combat the bad bacteria that commonly enter the body. Probiotics help:

  • Digest food.
  • Balance out bad bacteria to stave off infections.
  • Breakdown medications.
  • Create vitamins. 

All bodies naturally do these things, and eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet may be enough for your children to stay healthy as they grow. 

How to Give Children Probiotics

In general, pediatricians recommend that children get probiotics from foods instead of through over-the-counter supplements. Foods that have probiotics include:

  • Kefir, a fermented milk drink
  • Yogurt, which is thicker than kefir
  • Kombucha, a low-calorie, fermented drink made with black tea 
  • Sauerkraut, a German side dish featuring fermented cabbage
  • Kimchi, a Korean side dish that can be spicy
  • Tempeh, a hearty fermented soy product that can be used in a stir-fry
  • Sourdough bread
  • Pickles 

Some of these foods may be a treat for children, such as having a cup of yogurt sweetened with fresh fruit or a teaspoon of honey. Kefir is often sold in kid-friendly flavors like mango, blueberry, and strawberry. 

Continued

Should You Give Probiotics Supplements to Children?

Talk to your doctor before giving any sort of supplements to your child, including probiotics. 

Dietary supplements aren’t regulated by the Federal Food & Drug Administration (FDA), so there are no official recommendations for doses or the length of time to take them.

Probiotics may interfere with certain medications, especially for kids going through chemotherapy or who have recently had surgeries.

The bacteria may help prevent respiratory problems, diarrhea, and autoimmune disease. 

If you child is taking antibiotics, probiotics may help with side effects, such as digestion problems. 

If your child has been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, you may want to talk with your doctor about adding bifidobacterium supplements.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on February 22, 2021

Sources

SOURCES: 

Cleveland Clinic: “Probiotics."

Gastroenterology: “Efficacy and safety of probiotic Saccharomyces boulardii for the prevention and therapy of gastrointestinal disorders.”

Gastroenterology & Hepatology: “Probiotic Therapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.”

Geisinger: “Pediatric Allergy and Asthma Care.”

Geisinger: “The Pros and Cons of Probiotics for Kids.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “How To Get More Probiotics.”

Mayo Clinic: “Acidophilus.”

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