In our pediatric gastroenterology office, parents often ask about the benefits of probiotics for their children. So we thought we would address the basics of probiotics in this post and what you should look for when choosing a probiotic.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are microorganisms often found in food and supplements and they are commonly referred to as ‘the good bacteria’. They help to re-balance our gut bacterial flora and ensure that our gut is functioning optimally. There are several strains of probiotics and each strain can have different benefits. The three most common types of probiotics are:

1) Lactobacillus

This is the type of probiotic often found in yogurt and fermented foods. It is the species that produces lactase, which is an enzyme that helps to breakdown lactose (the sugar found in milk). Different strains of this probiotic can help with the symptoms of colic and boost the immune system.

2) Bifidobacterium

This probiotic lines the wall of the large intestine and produces lactic acid which helps to keep the acid levels in the gut stay balanced. In this way, it can prevent the growth of unwanted bacteria and research has shown that it can also help to control diarrhea.

3) Saccharomyces

This probiotic is a fungus. It is a safe yeast that promotes colonic health by limiting the food supply of the pro-inflammatory bacteria. Preventing the overgrowth of inflammatory bacteria helps to limit duration of diarrhea and decreases other inflammatory conditions of the bowel.

Are probiotics safe for children?

While probiotics should never be used as the primary treatment for any condition, they can be used as a supplement to help children’s digestive tracts function well.

The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate probiotics as medicine, but rather as a food product. While probiotics are generally safe for most children, it is important to discuss with your pediatrician before starting a probiotic for your child.

What should I look for when choosing a probiotic for my child?

Your child can get probiotics from fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir or kimchi. They can also get probiotics through supplements.

When choosing a probiotic supplement, it is important to choose one with the appropriate strain. In general, Lactobacillus GG is a strain that works well for children due to its benefit in controlling diarrhea, reducing the risk of respiratory tract infections, and reducing the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

Newborns can also absorb probiotics through breast milk so new mothers can also take probiotics to help her and baby. Probiotics along with the immunoglobulin A (IgA) help to seal the gut lining and to create a healthy gut environment for your newborn.

If a probiotic with a single strain is not helping your child, then you can look for probiotics with multiple strains as your child may be deficient in more than one strain of bacteria.

Finally, make sure that the probiotic you chose has the right dosage of bacteria. Anywhere over one billion colony forming units (CFUs) should be appropriate for a child.

I hope this helps you on your path toward finding belly bliss.

– Dr. Smita