Probiotics are living microorganisms that can benefit the health of most people – including our kids. Our bodies are home to nearly 100 trillion microorganisms forming what is called the “natural flora”. An imbalance in your kid’s resident flora has the potential to cause problems with digestion and beyond. The best probiotics for kids aid in keeping their digestive systems in balance.
What Probiotics Do and How They Work?
In an ideal scenario, our kids’ natural flora would be perfectly balanced and healthy. However, that’s not always the case. An imbalance can occur due to the environment, poor diet (low in fiber or high in sugar) or conditions like irritable bowel syndrome. If your child takes a course of antibiotics for a tummy upset or flu, this will wipe out their natural flora almost completely.
When alteration or destruction of the bacteria occurs, it can cause ill health. Probiotic supplements to the rescue! These supplements contain a mix of strains of live bacteria. When your kid swallows them, they take up residence in the gut, just like the natural inhabitants.
What are the Health Benefits of Probiotics for Kids?
Preventing Minor Illness
The idea of ingesting billions of bacteria seems both figuratively and literally hard for kids to swallow, but it’s worth it, I promise. Probiotic supplements repopulate your child’s system with healthy bacteria. They make sure that bad bacteria can’t move in – simply because there’s no space for them. This means you may notice a decrease in tummy upsets and minor illnesses.
Improved Digestion & IBS
Gut bacteria assist in the transport of food through the digestive system by breaking down food components and fighting any malicious bacteria that may be present. There is growing evidence suggesting that probiotics can help with ailments such as irritable bowel syndrome – check with your doctor if your child suffers from constipation, diarrhoea or gas on an ongoing basis as this could be the source. (source)
Strengthen Immune System
Children’s immune systems face challenges every day. They occur in the environment – when a child is at play, at home or in the classroom. The billions of good bacteria living in our guts not only assist digestion but get involved in regulation of the immune system too. Studies also suggest the use of probiotic therapy helps in delaying allergy development in children. (source)
In most cases, if your child takes an antibiotic, it’s a good idea to give them a probiotic supplement after the course is finished. Taking it along with the antibiotic will just kill the bacteria you’ve ingested. However there is evidence that probiotics are helpful in preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea. (source)
Is a Probiotic Right for Every Child?
The evidence is conflicting. According to an article by Mark Crisp on the Science-Based Medicine website, people suffering no symptoms and eating a normal diet will see no benefits. But most kids aren’t eating a perfect diet, are they?
On the flipside, a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that probiotics can be of benefit to healthy infants and healthy children.
Live yoghurts and fermented foods contain the good bacteria needed in the digestive tract. Children sometimes find these foods unpalatable. Probiotic supplements provide the needed bacteria for a healthy gastrointestinal system.
Dr. Dan W. Thomas stresses the importance of talking to a pediatrician before giving your child probiotics. When given to a seriously or chronically ill child they can present a problem.
How to Choose the Right Probiotic
The basic criteria for choosing the best probiotics for kids are as follows:
The number of bacteria contained in the product is not as important as the strains included. Medical researcher Dr. David Williams recommends a minimum inclusion of L. acidophilus, B. longum, and B bifidum.
Secondary recommendations are L. fermentum, and L-rhamnose. Any strains beyond these depend on specific health concerns.
Formulation & Packaging
Some probiotics come in gummy and chewable forms. Sweet or citrus flavors are sometimes added to entice children to take them.
If possible, try to look for a product that does not require refrigeration. When these products are at room temperature, the microorganisms inside will die. It’s impossible to ensure that the correct temperature has been maintained throughout delivery if you purchase online.
The microorganisms in probiotics must be alive when they reach the digestive tract or they will be of no benefit. As well as high temperatures, stomach acid can kill the little creatures.
So look for a probiotic that is formulated to protect bacteria until they reach the area where they’re needed – the intestines. Controlled-release tablets or caplets are a favorite of some researchers.
Expiration dates are not an industry required piece of information. A displayed expiration date tells something of a product’s quality – it’s a manufacturer’s promise of how long bacteria in the product remain potent and active.
A money-back guarantee indicates a company stands by its product.
Studies about probiotics are relatively new. Dr. John Douillard created a YouTube video that I found very informative. He wrote an article to accompany the video that goes into more detail.
And the Winner Is . . .
The clear winner in my book is i-Health Culturelle Probiotics for Kids. The packaging ensures the bacteria stay alive and the different forms (powder, chewable and capsule) ensure there’s something to suit every child. It contains the bacteria recommended by Dr. David Williams. An expiration date posted on the label and a guarantee of potency indicate the manufacturer stands behind the product.