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Probiotics for Kids

Child Nutrition Basics

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Updated March 17, 2012

Stonyfield Farm Organic Smoothies contain more than five billion probiotic cultures.

Stonyfield Farm Organic Smoothies contain more than five billion probiotic cultures, including the probiotics L. acidophilus, Bifidus, L. casei, and L. rhamnosus.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Probiotics are products that contain microorganisms -- usually bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces -- that are supposed to have a beneficial effect for people who eat or drink them. They are thought to work by modifying the number of bacteria living in our gastrointestinal tract, thereby increasing the number of beneficial gut bacteria and preventing the growth and overgrowth of harmful bacteria.

Babies are born without any bacteria in their intestines, but they quickly become colonized with many beneficial bacteria. Babies born via vaginal delivery tend to have more beneficial bacteria, as do babies that are breastfed. Probiotics are found in breast milk, which is likely why they were recently added to an infant formula -- although it hasn't been proven if they will have the same effect.

Probiotics

Products that are available that contain probiotics, including some that are specifically marketed for infants and children, include:

  • Nestle Good Start Natural Cultures Infant Formula with DHA & ARA - a baby formula with probiotics
  • Baby's Only Essentials Probiotic - a powdered probiotic available in packets that can be added to milk or yogurt
  • Yo Baby yogurt - includes extra probiotic bacteria
  • Yoplait Yo Plus yogurt
  • Activa yogurt
  • DanActive yogurt drink, for kids over age three
  • Align Daily Probiotic Supplement
  • Nutrition Now Pro-Biotics Acidophilus
  • Culturelle for Kids with Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG
  • Florastor and FlorastorKids with Saccharomyces boulardii lyo

While other brands of yogurt have some active cultures and probiotics, they are usually not in high enough dosages to be considered a useful supplement.

Are Probiotics Useful?

Unfortunately, many studies have shown that the use of probiotics doesn't necessarily live up to all of the hype.

Specifically, studies so far (although more studies are being done) have shown that:

  • the probiotic L. acidophilus does help children with acute diarrhea get better faster
  • they do not have a protective effect against antibiotic-induced diarrhea, although some studies show that they do
  • early supplementation with the probiotic L. acidophilus did not reduce a high risk infant's risk of developing atopic dermatitis or eczema, although an earlier study did find a protective effect from eczema for probiotics
  • they did not improve pain in children with irritable bowel syndrome
  • probiotics were more helpful than simethicone, a popular ingredient in gas and colic drops, in babies with colic

Probiotics are also being studied for use in children with chronic constipation, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and Helicobacter pylori infections.

On a positive note, no studies have found any significant side effects for healthy children without immune system problems taking probiotics.

You Should Give Your Child Probiotics Then, Right?

If they are safe and might be helpful, it is easy to think, sure, why not? But the problem is that there are many different types and strains of probiotics, and they come in many dosages, so it is hard to know exactly how they should be taken. Should you give your child a supplement or some yogurt with a probiotic? It's hard to say.

Keep in mind that except for use in kids with acute diarrhea, like from a stomach virus, they have no real proven benefit so far, so you might wait until more research is done before offering probiotics to your kids on a regular basis.



Sources:

Probiotics in children. Kligler B - Pediatr Clin North Am - 01-DEC-2007; 54(6): 949-67

Probiotics. Theresa L. Charrois, Gagan Sandhu and Sunita Vohra. Pediatr. Rev. 2006;27;137-139

Probiotics for pediatric antibiotic-associated diarrhea: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials. Johnston BC - CMAJ - 15-AUG-2006; 175(4): 377-83

Probiotic supplementation for the first 6 months of life fails to reduce the risk of atopic dermatitis and increases the risk of allergen sensitization in high-risk children: a randomized controlled trial. Taylor AL - J Allergy Clin Immunol - 01-JAN-2007; 119(1): 184-91

Probiotics and prevention of atopic disease: 4-year follow-up of a randomised placebo-controlled trial. Kalliomaki M - Lancet - 31-MAY-2003; 361(9372): 1869-71

Bausserman M., Michail S.: The use of Lactobacillus GG in irritable bowel syndrome in children: a double-blind randomized control trial. J Pediatr 147. (2): 197-201.2005

Savino F., Pelle E., Palumeri E., et al: Lactobacillus reuteri (American Type Culture Collection Strain 55730) versus simethicone in the treatment of infantile colic: a prospective randomized study. Pediatrics 119. 124-130.2007

Not all probiotic preparations are equally effective for diarrhea in children. Robbins B - J Pediatr - 01-JAN-2008; 152(1): 142

Beneficial effects of probiotic bacteria isolated from breast milk. - Lara-Villoslada F - Br J Nutr - 01-OCT-2007; 98 Suppl 1: S96-100

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