What are probiotics?
Probiotics are the “good” bacteria found in certain foods and supplements, which can provide various health benefits when eaten or taken. The definition of probiotics per the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics is “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.”
What do they help with?
There are numerous health conditions in which probiotics have found to be helpful. These include (but are not limited to) Crohns’ disease, H.pylori, urinary tract infections, yeast infections, eczema, upper respiratory infections, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, infant colic, etc.).
There have been multiple studies linking probiotic usage with a decreased amount of days absent from daycare and school for young children. This is very valuable information….BUT… There is little information regarding which particular strains are most beneficial and at what dosage. (This then poses the questions, which probiotics/strains should I buy or consume? Keep reading).
Are all probiotics created equal?
No. There are certain strains that are found to be more beneficial and effective for different illnesses and conditions:
Lactobacillus (LGG) has been shown to be effective in the prevention of upper respiratory infections in daycare centers.
Atopic dermatitis (the most common type of eczema), has shown to improve with the usage of certain probiotic strains, particularly Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Propionibacterium. However, more research needs to be done in the pediatric population.
Kiddos suffering from acute infectious gastroenteritis, or the tummy bug, have shown to benefit from probiotics, particularly LGG. There is very little evidence showing that probiotics will help with the PREVENTION of tummy bugs, however, so don't waste your money thinking it'll stop or prevent your child from developing any vomiting and/or diarrhea.
Antibiotic-associated diarrhea is a common complaint in the pediatric world and the number one side effect of most antibiotics. LGG and S. boulardii have found to be the most beneficial strains in reducing the risk of developing antibiotic-associated diarrhea. The study showed that these two strains were most helpful when taken within 2 days of the first dosage of the antibiotic.
Although more research needs to be done, probiotics have also shown to be helpful in reducing colic in breastfed infants, specifically Lactobacillus reuteri.
Are they regulated?
Probiotics are sold as “dietary supplements,” which means they DO NOT need to be approved by the FDA.
Are they safe?
Probiotics are generally considered a safe supplement. Those with an underlying medical condition or a compromised immune system should contact their primary care provider prior to initiating any treatment. Since probiotics are considered “live,” a person that is immunocompromised could become ill or develop an infection due to the supplement.
Probiotics can also have undesirable side effects, which include gas and/or bloating.
What should I look for in a probiotic?
When doing your own personal research or scouring the supplement shelves, you will find that probiotics contain either 1 strain or multiple probiotic strains.
Again, each probiotic or strain is good for certain ailments, and there is no "one size fits all".
The most commonly used probiotic strains that you will find on the shelves are Bifidobacterium, Lactobacilli, S. boulardii, and B. coagulans.
How can my family get probiotics in our diets, without taking a daily supplement?
There are many foods that you can eat on a regular basis that contain healthy bacteria. These include:
However, taking a probiotic supplement allows you to pick-and-choose which strains you are ingesting, which is important depending on the reason you want to take probiotics to begin with.
Probiotics are considered relatively safe and have shown to be beneficial under certain circumstances.
As stated above, there is no "one size fits all" when it comes to probiotics.
Ask yourself... "What am I looking to help or take care of?"
Lastly, more research needs to be conducted in order to determine which probiotic strains, dosages, and for which conditions are safe and effective for the pediatric population.
Until next time, Mandi
P.S. Probiotics should never be used as a cure-all or treatment. When in doubt, talk with your child's primary care provider to discuss his/her symptoms.