The term probiotics literally means “for life”, and is used to describe beneficial bacteria that colonize in the gut. Probiotics have been shown to provide health benefits such as enhancing immune function, assisting with lactose intolerance, and reducing the risk of certain diarrheal illnesses. Some studies also report that certain probiotics can play a role in reducing allergies in children, managing relapse of some inflammatory bowel conditions, and just keeping healthy people healthy. It may be surprising to learn that the body is host to an enormous number of “friendly” bacteria. From birth, bacteria begin to colonize in the gut and help by supporting the immune system and aiding in digestion.
Do I need to take probiotics?
From time to time children, and adults alike, experience infections, take antibiotics, or alter their diet. These events can disrupt the balance of friendly bacteria in the digestive system and can possibly result in diarrhea or other illnesses. Mild diarrhea is rarely serious when treated properly, but can lead to severe dehydration if lost fluids are not replenished. Giving your child an electrolyte replacement, such as Pedialyte®, will help replace fluids. Yogurt, with active and live cultures of probiotics, may help decrease the duration of diarrhea by 2-3 days. The American Pediatric Society says yogurt can be safely introduced to children as young as 9-12 months old; however, if your child has severe diarrhea, you should consult with your health care professional immediately.
What are some food sources of probiotics?
Fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir (fermented milk), aged cheese, and certain brands of sour cream, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut, and kimchi are great natural sources of probiotics. Certain strains of probiotics are more helpful than others, with the most promising evidence from the species Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli. When buying yogurt in particular, it is important to check the label to make sure there are “active and live cultures” of Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli.
Do I need to take a supplement?
Probiotic supplements may be a good choice for those with certain health conditions or for those who cannot consume probiotic-containing foods. Supplements are available with different strains of probiotics and in varying concentrations, referred to as “colony forming units” (CFUs). Concentrations are available with as little as 1 billion CFUs and up to 450 billion CFUs. For general health, a supplement, such as FlorastorKids®, will provide 5 billion CFUs and may help protect your child from minor illnesses and give the immune system a boost during diarrheal illnesses. The probiotic supplement, Culturelle®, contains Lactobacillus GG and is a good choice for reducing the duration of antibiotic-associated diarrhea. The highest dose of probiotic supplement available is VSL#3®, which provides 450 billion CFUs. VSL#3® is referred to as a medical food and is intended to be taken under professional supervision. As always, people with serious medical problems or those who are immuno-compromised should consult their doctor before beginning any supplement.
Take home point…some bacteria are good for your health.