Benefits of Probiotics for Children | Truth or Myth

From the very moment when they are conceived until the last day when they leave your house as adults or even after that, we have a great responsibility as parents to help children grow into healthy and strong adults, both body and mind. It is a 24/7 job that never stops, and we need to make sure that our children are getting the right vitamins and nutrients to cover their differing needs. With smaller children, it is harder to trick them into liking the ‘’good stuff ‘that does not taste great all the time. That is why this needs to be taught to them from an early age for their tiny little bodies to adjust accordingly. And the best way to teach them is to know more about these living microorganisms identified as ‘’good’’ bacteria that can be found in foods or be turned into probiotic supplements.

Hoax or do they really work?

Based on our research, we can answer the question that everybody is constantly asking: Probiotics work for our children or are they only a hoax made up by the pharmaceutical companies to exploit us even more? How safe and effective are they to support the kids natural defenses and keep them healthy? Can they Improves immunity, help with calming colics for infants and prevents diarrhea?

The U.S. probiotic market is constantly growing each year and is expanding their brands to cover all ages, from infants to senior citizens.
Let’s start a trip down memory lane and go back where it all started: to the birth room. When they are born by natural birth, children already have lots of bacteria living inside their gastrointestinal system which protects them and helps them being healthy.

I have specified the word ‘’natural’’ birth because when they are born that way, the baby’s GI tract is already filled with good, bad, and intestinal bacteria (known as intestinal microflora) as he passes through the vaginal opening and receives some of the mother’s own microbes.[1] When a woman gives birth by C-section, they initially have a different collection of intestinal flora which may cause different types of allergies and asthma in C-section babies, but no reliable conclusions have been reached yet.

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics have always sparked a lot of debates over the years to demonstrate if indeed they have an effect on our bodies’ health. The answer might lie inside our bodies. We know for a fact that two of the most common categories of ‘healthy’’ bacteria that can be found living inside us are called Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. And guess what: those are the most common used ones by the food manufacturing companies in their products. Where can we find them? You probably have already consumed them, at least once in your lifetime. They can be found in dairy products like yogurt or kefir and some cheeses such as cheddar and Gouda. The official statement of the National Yogurt Association says that on the label of these probiotic products the labels should read: ‘’live and active cultures.’’[2]

So we come to the question: What are Probiotics from a scientific point of view? Probiotics are live bacteria that are promoted as having various health benefits for our bodies. As we have seen above, they can be found in most common foods like fermented and unfermented milk, miso, tempeh, and some juices, smoothies, nutrition bars, and soy drinks, yogurts( with L. bulgaricus and S. thermophilus strains) or taken as food supplements.[3]

The World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations have named probiotics the “live microorganisms, which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.”[4] It was recognized in 2002 by the industry secured FDA designation of specific strains of B. lactis and Streptococcus thermophilus that the substances were recognized as safe (GRAS) and are already found in milk-based formulas for infants aged four months and older.[5]

How can they affect children?

Studies have shown that when a woman is breastfeeding, either after a natural or caesarean birth, the milk releases more of the good bacteria that contain substances known as prebiotics which helps the growth of healthy living microorganisms. With the nutrients provided to the living bacteria, they can successfully exist and flourish in the child’s gut and at the same time shape its entire gastrointestinal tract. As the child grows and begins eating solid foods he will no longer depend on his mother’s milk, and so this means that his gut microflora will also change, and then for it to be healthy for the rest of his or her’ s life should remain constant.

The balance of the fixed amount of microflora can easily be affected by everyday free radicals in our lives.Whenever you or your child have a cold and taking antibiotics, the doctor sometimes prescribe probiotic supplements to not affect your gastrointestinal tract. But that is not a general rule and depends on each doctor. Since each child and individual is different in its way, so is his body system. Thus what works for one does not necessary mean that it will work for the rest of them.

Some scientists are skeptical that probiotics can really bring benefits from a bacterial boost as Mr. Allan Walker, founder of the Mucosal Immunology and Biology Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital explains to us  because “there’s not a universal probiotic that improves health’’.[6] Knowing that, there is no proof for sure that it actually works. Whatever it is given to your child regarding probiotics, if it is either by food or supplements it is advisable to be discussed with the doctor first. It is important to note that they are not risk-free.

Although no relevant side effects were encountered, probiotics typically should not be given to cancer patients or to children who have serious illnesses, because probiotics in weakened body systems can cause illness.

Probiotics should be used cautiously by infants and young children, pregnant women and never given to premature infants because being so small their bodies are not fully properly grown, and their immune system is still developing. The risks of giving a probiotic supplement continue to show that they are very low in children with a healthy immune system but are to be taken into consideration whenever you intervene into the natural balance.

How do they work?

Probiotics are considered to be the little helpers that our body needs in restoring the natural balance of bacteria in the gut (including your stomach and intestines) whenever it has been affected by either an illness or an antibiotic treatment that resulted into diarrhea .

We have to understand that probiotics are considered more like food and not as a medicine that will surely work. They are not tested as much as medicines are, and they do not guarantee that they will work 100% percents for you. Also, they do not have any side effects when using them so they can be easily given to infants, teenagers, and elderly people. Again, little is known about the actual evidence that they are a sure deal. However, there have been signs of improvement for the following syndromes and diseases when probiotics were used: [7]

  • Lactose Intolerance
  • Prevention of Colds
  • Allergic Rhinitis / Hayfever
  • Constipation
  • Colon Cancer Prevention
  • Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth
  • Canker Sores.
  • Diarrhea caused by antibiotics
  • Traveler’s Diarrhea
  • Side Effects of Radiation Therapy
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Vaginal Yeast Infections
  • Ulcerative Colitis
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Immune Support

We need to be aware also that there are huge differences between the pharmaceutical-grade probiotics that are tested with encouraging results and the yogurts and supplements sold everywhere, from marketplaces to shops.

Should you decide to use them, pay extra attention for them to comply with the standard norms imposed by the FDA association.

Should we use probiotics for our kids?

Studies have shown that adding probiotics or prebiotics into the children’s diet can have an impact in treating viral diarrhea and preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea, but more research needs to be done for the test to be fully confirmed. They can be beneficial to healthy children and infants. However, it is not advisable to be given to children who are chronically or seriously ill or who have their immune systems already compromised by any other disease like HIV.

The American Academy of Pediatrics acknowledges that probiotics are effective to some extent and only to healthy individuals. Based on their clinical reports they have concluded that there are pros and cons of children taking probiotics and prebiotics. Studies are constantly trying to point out that probiotics are responsible for treating intestinal conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or constipation, as well as colic, and allergies in children.

Dr. Dan W. Thomas, M.D., head of the gastroenterology department at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles has confirmed that the friendly bacteria can relieve tummy aches in infants and fact, may reduce diarrhea by making the symptoms less severe and shorter by one day. [8] That is due to the probiotic group Lactobacillus that can be found in supplements like Culturelle for Kids and Florastor Kid and can be easily mixed into your child’s cold foods or drinks and he/she will not even know it is there. Infants and children can also consume probiotic foods – mainly yogurt and the effects will be the same. The studies were conducted on healthy children with useful results.

Tests have shown that consuming probiotics can also reduce eczema in small children. Eczema, also known as dermatitis is inflammation of the skin. The effects of this disease are itchy, erythematous, vesicular, weeping, and crusting patches that can be found on the body and face.

DR. Alan Greene, M.D., a clinical professor of pediatrics at the Stanford University School of Medicine states that Lactobacillus rhamnose and Bifidobacteria strains used for eczema treatment can improve the patient’s condition having this disease. Allergies can also be prevented with probiotics if started at an early age.

If your child has a chronic condition like irritable bowel syndrome or an inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, with the doctor’s permission you can start him on probiotics immediately by giving supplements VSL#3 and Align strains (both in capsule form). [9] Studies confirm that they may reduce the severity of kids’ abdominal pain, bloating, cramping, gas, and diarrhea.So based on the findings, probiotics sound like a good idea and seems to help those suffering from the mentioned symptoms.

What have we learned?

In the last five years, the probiotic market has expanded considerably and is increasingly being used by consumers for their health benefits. Clinical trial results show that probiotics are safe for use in otherwise healthy persons, but should be used with caution in some persons because of the risk of sepsis.

Probiotics, essentially live “good” bacteria are becoming more and more available and recommended by more and more physicians for our children. Studies show that the supplements promote recovery from acute diarrhea and antibiotic diarrhea. There have been considerable improvements of colic distress in infants and are beneficial for treating eczema, allergies, and asthma.

Based on the facts presented here it is important to be aware that that the effects of a probiotic depend on the individual and on the kind of probiotics organisms that already exist in your child’s digestive system. Although they do not have any relevant side effects, the ‘’good’’ bacteria is not necessarily good for everybody. Make sure to always check with the doctor if you are considering of giving probiotics to your children, either if it is by food or by supplements. It is better to know first all the details beforehand before intervening in the nature balance of the body. The only solid proof that was discovered during the clinical trials is that indeed they seem beneficial for kids with diarrhea. For other conditions, the evidence is not very clear, and the tests are still under way.

Since this field is still new to us, so are the apparent success stories that come along. Always pay extra attention when it comes to children to what you insert into their bodies since the result might not always be what it is expected.

Probiotic References   [ + ]

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Lucy Martinez