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How can probiotics help children?

Supplements such as probiotics are like having an extra tool in the toolbox parents create to raise healthy kids.

Every parent is looking for an easy magic-bullet to help keep their child healthy. Optimizing their child’s learning, growth, sleep, development, and digestion are top priorities for most parents. The combination of information overload on social media, as well as the overwhelming experience of parenting, can make any parent want a quick fix, so they feel good as parents and know their children are safe. Supplements are often thought of this way; a parent “hack” that can offer you parental “peace of mind.”

Supplements also go a long way to assuage parental feelings of anxiety and guilt about their child’s eating habits. They give parents peace of mind that it is helping “your child fill any nutritional gaps they need with one chewy or gummy”. And the demand for kids’ supplements has never been higher. Multivitamins and probiotics for children are popular with parents due to perceived value. With stressors and costs of parenting at an all time high, it is no wonder parents often describe feeling “covered” if their child has a daily supplement.

Probiotics and Kids

Probiotics are one of the most common supplements a parent may give their child, and there have been recent probiotic studies in children related to diarrhea and respiratory tract infections. There are five major strains of probiotics showing promise for helping kids. Probiotics are strain-specific, meaning certain strains help support gastrointestinal health.

Probiotics are thought to be generally safe and effective to use with children, especially when used judiciously and with a goal of gut health in mind. Having a health professional, such as a Registered Dietitian, assess your child’s needs helps clarify which specific strains or multi strain formulations will help your child most effectively.

Bifidobacterium lactis — Chronic constipation is one of the most common gut health issues parents reports to their child’s doctor. This strain of probiotic has been shown to help with regulation of bowel movements, reducing the risk of constipation and ease discomfort in those children. It has the added benefit of helping with reduced diarrhea, much like Lactobacillus, when antibiotics are used.

Bottom Line

Nothing replaces the basics when it comes to children’s health; safety, high quality diets, clean water, living out of poverty, activity and social attachment are all key factors in helping a child be their best. Supplements such as probiotics are like having an extra tool in the toolbox parents create to raise healthy kids.

Many things impact why research in probiotics and children is slow and less common than adult studies: developmental changes, delayed “payoff” for the parent and child, dependency on parent involvement, and other factors make doing research challenging in children. The current scientific trends in probiotic studies with children show a lot of promise. Probiotics can be one tool giving parents an accessible and minimal risk vs. benefit opportunity to help their child keep heading towards optimal health. The demand for something parents can control, that their kids will tolerate, makes probiotics a very hopeful area of research.

Nishta Saxena, MSc, RD