The concept of probiotics sounds like a good idea – our gut needs “good” bacteria to function well and probiotics may provide them. But, like a lot of information and advice for parents easily found on the internet, there are differing points of view on their use, especially for children. So, should you give them to your children?
Yes. And, maybe. Or, no. Let’s start with what they are. Probiotics are found in foods like yogurt or in supplement form. They help the “gut” function well by increasing the good bacteria and helping to reduce the amount of bad bacteria. Experts seem to mostly agree that they can help reduce the amount of days that a child suffers with diarrhea as a result of a virus (although it may not be more than a day or so).
There are other conditions that may be associated with good gut health like allergies, asthma, and some skin conditions. Some experts feel that cognition should be included for consideration as well. And, probiotics are generally not considered harmful except for chronically ill children or those with certain serious illnesses.
So far, so good, right? In theory, yes but there a few things to keep in mind about how to utilize them. Probiotics in supplement form are not regulated by the FDA because they are considered “dietary supplements”. Unfortunately, we all know what that means. There’s no standard that manufacturers have to follow or that consumers can rely on for comparison. It also may mean that the information is confusing or even inaccurate. I read an article by a mom who was shopping at her local pharmacy to help her little feel better during a stomach bug attack. Even with a background in science, she was overwhelmed and left with something recommended by an employee that was pretty highly priced with no guarantee that it would work how she wanted it to.
That’s because there is also no single combination that will work every time, for every condition or with every person. There are countless variations of probiotics and, if we can’t even be sure what type or how many we need, how do we know what to do?
On another (sour) note, the tried and true yogurt has its own issues. You probably already know that some yogurt has added sugar, just because, and in some yogurts it comes in the form of that delicious fruit that makes us think we’re eating healthy. But, that’s not even the probiotics part. When tested, some yogurts have been found to contain far less than the stated amount of live active cultures. In fact, one leading yogurt brand paid a fine after being found guilty of false advertising in the amount of live cultures it contained. And, even if the yogurt leaves the manufacturer with a healthy amount of good bacteria, they literally may not all survive the trip.
So, what to do? The general consensus is that probiotics in one form or another are not believed to be generally harmful and may provide some temporary relief for short-term illnesses in otherwise healthy children. Yogurt is widely believed to be a simple but somewhat effective way to strengthen good gut flora. I can attest to that one. When I prepared to study abroad, the group leader advised that we eat yogurt for several weeks prior to the trip to counteract issues in the difference of the drinking water and food preparation. I like yogurt so I followed his advice and had no issue in a country that had a reputation for causing intestinal issue. Another member of the group did not follow his advice and was sick for almost the whole trip.
Conclusive? Scientific? Not even a little bit. There are too many variables to fit those categories. But, it didn’t hurt and may just have added a few extra gut dwellers that made the difference without a high price. And, that’s pretty much the advice I’d give you on the use of probiotics – go with your gut.