Probiotics are a popular and effective supplement with proven benefits for adults and children alike. According to a recent survey of supplement use in children, probiotics were found to be the fourth most commonly used supplement. (20) Continue reading to learn about the benefits of probiotics for kids and determine whether a probiotic supplement may be right for your child.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are supplemental forms of healthy microorganisms, consisting of either bacteria, bacterial spores, or fungi, that support the composition of microorganisms residing in the gut. Trillions of bacteria live in your child’s gut and numbers can vary between individuals. The composition of these healthy microorganisms can be determined and disrupted by various factors, such as diet, certain medications, and infection. (24)
Probiotics can help promote a healthy gastrointestinal system by restoring a diverse gut microbiome. In addition, probiotics play a role in supporting immune health, as well as preventing or reducing the severity of certain atopic conditions, such as asthma and eczema.
Probiotics are found in many foods, as well as in supplement form. Supplemental probiotics are available in capsule, powder, and liquid forms.
Benefits of probiotics for kids
Probiotics help restore the composition of healthy bacteria in the gut, which can benefit children’s health in a variety of ways. Outlined below are some of the evidence-based benefits of probiotics.
Supports digestive health
Probiotics are most often associated with gut health and for good reason. Their primary role is to maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut. Supplementing with probiotics may help improve common digestive issues affecting children, including constipation, diarrhea, and acid reflux. (15)
Constipation, characterized by hard and infrequent stools, is a common issue for infants and children, accounting for one in 20 pediatrician visits. (21) A meta-analysis of six randomized control trials demonstrated the effectiveness of probiotic supplementation for constipation, particularly by improving stool frequency. (6)
Research has shown that probiotics are safe and effective in reducing the duration and stool frequency in children and infants experiencing acute diarrhea resulting from infections such as Clostridium difficile infection (C-diff). (2) Certain strains of probiotics, such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Saccharomyces boulardii, may also be helpful in relieving or preventing diarrhea resulting from antibiotic use. (3)
Furthermore, a randomized clinical trial found that supplementing with probiotics in children three months or younger may help prevent acid reflux and colic. The study measured the duration and frequency of inconsolable crying episodes in 589 infants. Infants receiving oral supplementation of the probiotic strain Lactobacillus reuteri cried for an average of 38 minutes compared to 71 minutes for the placebo group. Infants receiving probiotics also spat up an average of three times per day compared to nearly five times per day in the placebo group. (7)
Boosts immune function
Did you know that approximately 70% of the body’s immune cells are found in the gut? (22) Probiotics play an important role in supporting the immune system by colonizing beneficial gut bacteria, helping modulate and increase the activity of immune cells. (18)(12) Probiotics may also enhance the innate immune response and interfere with the growth of harmful pathogens in the gut. (25)
A systematic review and meta-analysis of 23 randomized controlled trials determined that probiotic supplementation decreases the incidence of respiratory tract infections (RTIs) in children. Probiotic supplementation in children with RTIs was correlated with fewer days of infection and decreased absence from school or daycare compared to children taking a placebo. (23)
May reduce the risk of certain atopic disease
Supplementing with probiotics may reduce the risk of developing or reducing the severity of certain atopic diseases in children. Atopic diseases are characterized by heightened immune responses to common allergens, such as foods, pet dander, and dust mites. (13) Altering the gut microbiome through probiotic supplementation may prevent asthma, allergic rhinitis (hay fever), and food allergy in growing children, although the exact reason for this effect is not well understood. (26)(12)
Supplementation of the probiotic strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG has been shown to reduce the incidence of atopic eczema (itchy, inflamed patches of skin) in at-risk children during their first two years of life. One study found that 14 of 53 children who received probiotic supplementation after birth developed atopic eczema compared with 25 of 54 children received a placebo. (9)
Probiotic foods for kids
Probiotics are found in fermented foods, including kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, yogurt, and kefir (fermented dairy beverage). Many of the probiotic strains found in these foods provide some of the same benefits as supplemental forms. (10)(5)
One study demonstrated the effectiveness of fermented milk containing the probiotic strain Lactobacillus casei in reducing the incidence and duration of acute diarrhea. (16) Furthermore, another study identified a possible link between fermented milk and a lower incidence of upper respiratory tract infections among children attending daycare centers. (17)
While considered safe for most healthy individuals, including children, probiotics should not be taken by everyone. Premature infants and children who are severely ill or immunocompromised should avoid supplementing with probiotics unless directed by a qualified practitioner. (11) Some children may experience side effects of supplementing with probiotics, including constipation, gas, nausea, and skin rashes. (8)
The bottom line
Supplementing with a children’s probiotic may improve your child’s health by supporting their immune system and balancing the composition of bacteria in their gut. Regularly consuming probiotics found naturally in fermented foods can also benefit your child’s health. Consult your integrative healthcare practitioner to determine if a probiotic supplement is right for your child.
- Akelma, A. Z., & Biten, A. A. (2015). Probiotics and infantile atopic eczema. Pediatric Health, Medicine and Therapeutics, 6, 147–151.
- Allen, S. J., Martinez, E. G., Gregorio, G. V., & Dans, L. F. (2010). Probiotics for treating acute infectious diarrhoea. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, CD003048.
- Cameron, D., Hock, Q. S., Kadim, M., Mohan, N., Ryoo, E., Sandhu, B., … Guarino, A. (2017). Probiotics for gastrointestinal disorders: Proposed recommendations for children of the Asia-Pacific region. World Journal of Gastroenterology, 23(45), 7952–7964.
- Chilton, S., Burton, J., & Reid, G. (2015). Inclusion of fermented foods in food guides around the world. Nutrients, 7(1), 390–404.
- Fox, M. J., Ahuja, K. D. K., Robertson, I. K., Ball, M. J., & Eri, R. D. (2015). Can probiotic yogurt prevent diarrhoea in children on antibiotics? A double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled study. BMJ Open, 5(1), e006474.
- Huang, R., & Hu, J. (2017). Positive effect of probiotics on constipation in children: A systematic review and meta-analysis of six randomized controlled trials. Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, 7, 153.
- Indrio, F., Di Mauro, A., Riezzo, G., Civardi, E., Intini, C., Corvaglia, L., … Francavilla, R. (2014). Prophylactic use of a probiotic in the prevention of colic, regurgitation, and functional constipation. JAMA Pediatrics, 168(3), 228–233.
- Islam, S. U. (2016). Clinical uses of probiotics. Medicine, 95(5), e2658.
- Kalliomäki, M., Salminen, S., Poussa, T., Arvilommi, H., & Isolauri, E. (2003). Probiotics and prevention of atopic disease: 4-year follow-up of a randomised placebo-controlled trial. The Lancet, 361(9372), 1869–1871.
- Kechagia, M., Basoulis, D., Konstantopoulou, S., Dimitriadi, D., Gyftopoulou, K., Skarmoutsou, N., & Fakiri, E. M. (2013). Health benefits of probiotics: A review. ISRN Nutrition, 2013, 1–7.
- Kligler, B., & Cohrssen, A. (2008). Probiotics. Am Fam Physician, 78(9), 1073–1078.
- Mennini, M., Dahdah, L., Artesani, M. C., Fiocchi, A., & Martelli, A. (2017). Probiotics in asthma and allergy prevention. Frontiers in Pediatrics, 5, 165.
- Moreno, M. A. (2016). Atopic diseases in children. JAMA Pediatrics, 170(1), 96.
- Parnell, J., & Reimer, R. (2012). Prebiotic fiber modulation of the gut microbiota improves risk factors for obesity and the metabolic syndrome. Gut Microbes, 3(1), 29–34.
- Pärtty, A., Rautava, S., & Kalliomäki, M. (2018). Probiotics on pediatric functional gastrointestinal disorders. Nutrients, 10(12), 1836.
- Pedone, C. A., Bernabeu, A. O., Postaire, E. R., Bouley, C. F., & Reinert, P. (1999). The effect of supplementation with milk fermented by Lactobacillus casei (strain DN-114 001) on acute diarrhoea in children attending day care centres. Int J Clin Pract, 53(3), 179–184.
- Prodeus, A., Niborski, V., Schrezenmeir, J., Gorelov, A., Shcherbina, A., & Rumyantsev, A. (2016). Fermented milk consumption and common infections in children attending day-care centers. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, 63(5), 534–543.
- Sanders, M. E. (2011). Impact of probiotics on colonizing microbiota of the gut. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, 45, S115–S119.
- Terpou, A., Papadaki, A., Lappa, I. K., Kachrimanidou, V., Bosnea, L. A., & Kopsahelis, N. (2019). Probiotics in food systems: Significance and emerging strategies towards improved viability and Delivery of Enhanced Beneficial Value. Nutrients, 11(7), 1591.
- Trudeau, Madden, Parnell, Gibbard, & Shearer. (2019). Dietary and supplement-based complementary and alternative medicine use in pediatric autism spectrum disorder. Nutrients, 11(8), 1783.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2020, July 6). Definition & facts for constipation in children. Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/constipation-children/definition-facts
- Vighi, G., Marcucci, F., Sensi, L., Di Cara, G., & Frati, F. (2008). Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Clinical & Experimental Immunology, 153, 3–6.
- Wang, Y., Li, X., Ge, T., Xiao, Y., Liao, Y., Cui, Y., … Zhang, T. (2016). Probiotics for prevention and treatment of respiratory tract infections in children. Medicine, 95(31), e4509.
- Wen, L., & Duffy, A. (2017). Factors influencing the gut microbiota, inflammation, and type 2 diabetes. The Journal of Nutrition, 147(7), 1468S-1475S.
- Yan, F., & Polk, D. B. (2011). Probiotics and immune health. Current Opinion in Gastroenterology, 27(6), 496–501.
- Zuccotti, G., Meneghin, F., Aceti, A., Barone, G., Callegari, M. L., Di Mauro, A., … Corvaglia, L. (2015). Probiotics for prevention of atopic diseases in infants: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Allergy, 70(11), 1356–1371.