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.

Did you know?
Probiotics should not be confused with prebiotics, which are dietary fibers that feed probiotics in the gut. (14)

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)

Probiotics may help prevent and lessen the severity of acid reflux and colic in infants.

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)

Furthermore, maternal supplementation during pregnancy and while breastfeeding has been shown to be helpful in preventing eczema in children. (1)

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)

Although recommendations for fermented foods are not specifically outlined in the current dietary guidelines, consuming them on a daily basis is considered safe for most kids. (4)(19)

Image of child eating yogurt

Food sources of potassium include fruits, vegetables and legumes, and meats and dairy. (20)

Safety considerations

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.

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