In 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a clinical report stating that, although probiotics are likely safe, it’s not clear how effective they are or what the long-term effects may be.
Lets look at the facts…
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms that can help maintain the balance of bacteria in the digestive tract. We have around 100 trillion healthy bacteria in our guts. Probiotics aid these good bacteria, especially when they have been wiped out or compromised, in defending the body against illness. Sometimes probiotics are similar to the good bacteria that already exists in your gut.
The digestive tract makes up more than 70% of our immune system, which helps bad bacteria and viruses from attacking our bodies. When an infant is born, they swallow amniotic fluid, which starts to colonize and stimulate the growth of good bacteria in a baby’s body. In the first two years of their lives, kids’ immune systems are still not fully mature. Probiotics can help supplement their growing bacteria so that their body and immune system is functioning. Because of this link between a healthy digestive tract and a strong immune system, adding probiotics to your child’s daily regimen may be beneficial to their overall health.
Are they safe?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, probiotics don’t appear to cause any ill effects in healthy, full term babies. However, the case may not be the same for preterm babies, those with weakened immune systems, and those with catheters or medical devices inside their bodies. Therefore, more research is needed to determine the long-term effects of probiotics in children who have these conditions or a diagnosed digestive problem. Because each child may react to probiotics differently, you should talk to your pediatrician before adding them to your child’s diet. In addition, be sure to buy the appropriate probiotic for your child’s age. There are probiotics available for kids age 3 months and older.
Are they necessary or beneficial?
The human body carries more than 100 trillion micro-organisms in our intestines. These bacteria perform a very important role in the proper functioning of our body. Each person’s bacteria is different. Probiotics only contain several of the hundred of types of bacteria in our gut. However, it is thought when this normal bacteria is disrupted, probiotics can be useful.
An example of this would be when you are taking an antibiotic, which temporarily wipes out some good bacteria in your gut. Probiotics can help by occupying that niche and fighting against bad bacteria until the good bacteria is able to re-grow.
Some of the benefits associated with probiotic use include:
- reduction of diarrhea; in fact, a review of nine studies on the effect of Lactobacillus, a component of most probiotics, as therapy for diarrhea in children concluded that: "Lactobacillus is safe and effective as a treatment for children with acute infectious diarrhea" (Van Niel et al, Pediatrics 109:678-84, 2002).
- enhanced immunity
- prevention of gut infections
How to choose a probiotic?
With all of the different types of probiotics, it’s hard to figure out which one is right for your family.
Probiotics are available in supplement form and also in types of food.
The following are some tips to help you choose the right probiotic for your children:
1. Check the label.
Specifically look for:
- the names of the micro-organisms in the product
- safety for children of certain ages
- a statement of the number of viable cells
- the expiration date
- storage of the probiotic- most importantly, if it should be refrigerated or not.
2. Do your research.
Peruse the internet and look for well-known companies whose products have been tested and have proven results.
3. Call the manufacturer.
If you are still unsure which brand to choose, call the maker of the product and ask them exactly which strains are in their probiotics and what research they have done to support their health claims.
4. Proper storage.
Some probiotics need to be kept refrigerated so make sure to check the label on your specific supplement to see the best way to store them. Make sure you also check their shelf-life and use them before their expiration date to ensure greatest effectiveness. It has been found that neither refrigerated nor non-refrigerated probiotics are superior. It just depends on the type and stability of the bacteria that each one contains.
If you want to get the benefits of probiotics, try natural probiotic foods such as:
- Miso soup
- Fermented foods such as Sauerkraut and Pickles
- Spirulina and other microalgae
What are your thoughts on probiotics? Leave us a comment, we would love to know!
Written by: Dana Stretchberry
www.huffingtonpost.com (gut bacteria)