Parents have been asking me to digest information they’ve heard about something called probiotics and whether they are safe for children.
Well, let me see if I can provide some food for thought on this topic.
While some bacteria in our system are dangerous and cause us to get sick, there are other good or friendly bacteria that work in our digestive tract to help us stay healthy. They are what we call probiotics.
Probiotics, living inside us, make substances that keep the cells in our intestines healthy and fight off unfriendly bacteria, yeast and molds. Some of the more common names for these bacteria are bifid bacterium and lactobacillus, organisms that you find in foods such as yogurt.
When probiotics colonize or settle into a baby or child’s digestive system, they help to do such things as reduce the risk of diarrhea due to stomach viruses, lower the risk of food allergy and help premature infants grow and stay healthy. They have been reported in studies to lower the risk of everything from diarrhea to eczema to food allergies and colic.
Some studies published recently suggest that probiotics can even reduce the incidence of the common cold or flu symptoms.
So are probiotics safe? Based on studies of adults, probiotics appear to be safe when used in moderation or introduced in the routine foods we eat, like yogurt. Since they are regulated as food products and not as drugs; however, there are limited specific data as to what types or doses should be given as extra doses of these organisms in order to work in kids and adults.
The only side effects of taking large doses of probiotics to date are reported largely in adults and include mild gas and bloating. Also, these products can be expensive and some don’t taste very good.
My best suggestion is to recognize that probiotics are already a part of all of our intestinal systems. You should also look out for studies that will guarantee the relative safety of giving extra probiotics to our children as well as to yourself.
Hopefully tips like this will help make you a pro when it comes to knowing more about probiotics.
Dr. Lewis First is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children’s Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.