Probiotics for Healthier Kids
At the end of August and early September, kids will be heading back to school, and some little ones will be going to school for the very first time. Don’t forget to remind all your patients, especially those with kids, about the important benefits of daily probiotics for the whole family. Probiotics come in powders, chewable tablets and capsules to address the needs of any age group.
Healthy colonization of the GI tract is vital for normal GI and immune system function. Probiotic bacteria help inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, promote proper digestion and absorption of nutrients, support optimal immune function, and increase resistance to infection.1, 2 Kids with a healthy microbiome are better equipped to fight off colds and other infectious illnesses. 3, 4. Probiotics inhibit the reproduction of harmful bacteria, by producing organic compounds that increase the acidity of the intestines; compounds such as hydrogen peroxide, acetic acid and lactic acid. 5,6 Harmful bacteria do not grow in an acidic environment, but lucky for us acidophiles like Lactobacillus Acidophilus thrive in the acidic conditions of the GI system and are helpful to us in a variety of ways. Probiotic bacteria also produce substances called bacteriocins, which act as natural antibiotics to kill undesirable microorganisms.7
We evolved ingesting these health promoting bacteria with the food we pulled from the ground as well as fermented foods but across America most people eat food from a grocery store, not directly from the garden or farm. The food in our stores is completely sanitized, but what about cultured foods as a source of probiotics for kids?
No doubt the most popular cultured food for kids in America is yogurt. As long as you buy yogurt that carries the “Live & Active Cultures” seal, kids will probably get a good dose. “Consumer Reports” noted in 2011 that yogurt products contain a wide range in the amount of probiotics they contain, from 90 billion to 500 billion CFUs per serving. Please also remember that yogurt by definition is made with only two strains of bacteria: “Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus. A few other strains may be thrown in there in small amounts, but there are a few brands who add significant amounts of Bifido bacteria for its benefits in promoting bowel regularity, which is important for kids and adults alike.
The big hitter for probiotic content is kefir. It tastes very much like yogurt (but with a liquid consistency). Kefir may contain 12 or more different strains and generally higher probiotic counts per serving. Be careful though both yogurt and kefir can quickly turn into junk food if they contain high amounts of added sugar, and I personally find that mixing a bottle of plain and a bottle of flavored kefir tastes just right and cuts the sugar content of the flavored product in half.
Probiotic foods in the diet offer important health benefits. But the advantage of probiotic supplements for kids is the ability to increase the variety and number of different strains of beneficial bacteria, promoting wide variety and balance, with no single strain dominating. Differing strains of bacteria provide different benefits, and while there is still much to learn about the hundreds of species and subspecies which can be found in the human GI tract, we are making some headway in learning about the particular positive effects of some strains. High quality supplements utilize strains which have shown benefit in research studies.
Written By: Lisa Murray RDN, LD
- Smirnov VV, Reznik SR, V’iunitskaia VA, et al. The current concepts of the mechanisms of the therapeutic-prophylactic action of probiotics from bacteria in the genus bacillus. Mikrobiolohichnyi Zhurnal 1993;55:92-112.
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- De Simone C, Vesely R, Bianchi SB, et al. The role of probiotics in modulation of the immune system in man and in animals. Int J Immunother 1993;9:23-8.
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- Kawase K. Effects of nutrients on the intestinal microflora of infants. Jpn J Dairy Food Sci 1982;31:A241-3.
- Rasic JL. The role of dairy foods containing bifido and acidophilus bacteria in nutrition and health. N Eur Dairy J 1983;4:80-8.
- Barefoot SF, Klaenhammer TR. Detection and activity of Lactacin B, a Bacteriocin produced by Lactobacillus acidophilus. Appl Environ Microbiol 1983;45:1808-15.