Are Probiotics Good for Children?
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by Nilima Desai, MPH, RD
In the last decade or so, the interest and use of probiotics have skyrocketed. According to Agri-Food Canada, sales of probiotic supplements in Canada topped at 34% and are projected to grow exponentially in the coming years.1 With numerous commercials on television these days advertising the various health benefits that probiotics can provide, have you ever wondered about giving probiotics to your kids?
What are probiotics?
The human microbiota are very diverse and consist of 10-100 trillion bacteria living in the various tissues of the body such as the skin, mouth, and gut.2 Most of these bacteria live in our gut and are resistant to the colonization of bad bacteria, act as key players in the process of gut immune system development, and form short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), a major energy source for cells in the colon.3 The microbiota continue to evolve as we age and are influenced by what we eat, our body composition, how much sleep we get, how many antibiotics we take during our lifetime, and the amount of daily stress we experience.4
One way to support healthy microbiota is to create a balanced environment of different types of bacteria. We can do this by supplying our bodies with more beneficial bacteria, called probiotics. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) define probiotics as “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.”5
Some examples of food sources that contain these beneficial bacteria are yogurt, kefir, miso, kimchi, tempeh, and sauerkraut. It might be difficult to obtain the amount of beneficial bacteria from probiotic-rich food alone; therefore, incorporating a probiotic supplement that offers a stable and reliable source of gut-friendly bacteria as part of your daily regimen might be a good idea.
Use of probiotics in children
There is an increased interest in the use of probiotics in children because of the growing evidence that suggests that these gut-friendly bacteria may convey numerous health benefits to kids, as well. Some of the most studied probiotics are L. rhamnosus GG (LGG), B. lactis, L. reuteri, and S. boulardii.6-8
How to choose a probiotic
Probiotics have a specific, designated nomenclature based on their genus, species, and strain. The most commonly recognized probiotic genera include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium3 and are used in many functional foods and dietary supplements. If you choose to give probiotic supplements to your children, consider the following:
- Colony-forming units (CFUs) in the billions
- A brand that specifies the exact genus, species, and strain information and amount of live organisms (Example: Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07, 5 billion live organisms. Genus: Bifidobacterium; species: lactis; strain: Bi-07)
- Specific storage instructions, for example: “keep refrigerated”
Keep in mind that not all probiotic strains provide the same benefits. Additionally, the quality and potency of probiotics can vary significantly between products. Therefore, only those strains that have proven efficacy and safety should be recommended for use in the pediatric population. If you think a probiotic might be right for your child, consult with your healthcare practitioner, who knows you and your child’s health history best.
- http://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/industry-markets-and-trade/market-information-by-sector/functional-foods-and-natural-health-products/trends-and-market-opportunities-for-the-functional-foods-and-natural-health-products-sector/opportunities-and-challenges-facing-the-canadian-functional-foods-and-natural-health-products-sector/?id=1410206902299. Accessed April 17th
- Ursell LK, Metcalf JL, et al. Defining the human microbiome. Nutr Rev. 2012;70(1):S38-S44.
- Behnsen J, Deriu E, et al. Probiotics: properties, examples, and specific applications. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med. 2013; 3(3):a010074.
- Thomas S, Izard J, et al. The Host Microbiome Regulates and Maintains Human Health: A Primer and Perspective for Non-Microbiologists. Cancer Res. 2017;77(8):1783-1812.
- Hill C, Guarner F, Reid G, et al. Expert consensus document: The international scientific association for probiotics and prebiotics consensus statement on the scope and appropriate use of the term probiotic. Nature Rev Gastro & Hept. 2014;11:506-514.
- Thomas DW, Greer FR. Probiotics and prebiotics in pediatrics. Committee on nutrition; section on gastroenterology, hepatology, and nutrition. Pediatrics. 2010;126(6):1217-1231.
- Weizman Z, Asli G, Alsheikh A. Pediatrics. 2005;115(1):5-9.
- Hojsak I. Probiotics in children: what is the evidence? Pediatr Gastroenterol Hepatol Nutr. 2017; 20(3):139-146.