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The Advantages of Probiotics for Children

Probiotics have proven benefits for the adult digestive and immune systems. But should children take them too? Learn why you should consider probiotics and how to determine whether or not your child needs them.
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Many parents are now choosing to give their child’s digestive system a boost by supplementing their diet with probiotics. With a healthy digestive system, your child is more likely to maintain optimum overall health. 

A healthy digestive tract contains between 500 and 1,000 different strains of probiotic bacteria that assist in the digestion and absorption of nutrients from food and help to regulate the body's immune, neurological and endocrine systems. They also help to prevent against overgrowth of harmful bacteria that can be introduced from the environment and food. 

Why probiotics for children?
There are a number of reasons why the amount of beneficial bacteria in a child’s system is compromised. Recent research suggests there is a brief developmental window shortly after birth during which a baby's digestive system is most responsive to colonization by probiotic bacteria. If a baby isn't being breast-fed during this time, it's unlikely sufficient amounts of probiotics are entering the system. Baby formulas -- even expensive, specialized formulas -- don't contain probiotics in them. Repeated use of antibiotics, for conditions like chronic ear or sinus infections, can wreak havoc on the natural gut flora which may already be present. Antacid medications can also contribute to dysbiosis, or an imbalance in gut bacteria.

The main reasons to start children on probiotics include:

  • Improved Digestion: 
    A healthy digestive system allows the body to maximize vitamin and mineral absorption. By properly utilizing nutrients from the food a child eats, many health benefits will result in including improved immunity to illness. Supplementing the diet with probiotics may also help fight off the harmful germs and bacteria children are exposed to daily. Probiotic supplements or foods that contain probiotics like kefir, sauerkraut and yogurt can help children’s bodies ward off digestive health problems such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diarrhea or intestinal inflammation.
  • Reduce Susceptibility to the Common Cold or Flu:
    In addition to reducing their risk for digestive problems, probiotics may also significantly boost the immune system, reducing the risk of common illnesses such as the cold and flu in children, who are particularly susceptible. Regular supplementation with probiotics may also reduce the severity of the cold or flu symptoms as well as the amount of time a child is sick.
  • Using Probiotics to Avoid the Overuse of Antibiotics:
    While antibiotics have been successfully used to treat bacterial infections, many modern health professionals agree that overuse of antibiotics can weaken the body's natural immune system. Antibiotics kill both "good" and "bad" bacteria. It's possible an immune system boost conferred by probiotic use can reduce the need for antibiotics in the future. Supplementing a child’s diet with probiotics is a powerful way to give their immune system the strength it needs to effectively fight off bacteria and germs before an illness can set in.

Starting Children On Probiotics
Probiotics can be consumed through foods that have been enhanced with probiotic bacteria or as supplements. Since kids can develop picky eating habits, it's best to get children started on a variety of healthy foods from a young age. Fortunately, there are foods rich in probiotic bacteria that many children enjoy. For example, most kids like yogurt. However, it's important to find a brand of yogurt that includes a healthy dose of probiotics. 

Getting children to eat fermented foods, which often contain probiotic bacteria, may be trickier. Introduce foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, kefir and miso soup from an early age. Again, be sure to choose brands that include healthy amounts of probiotic bacteria. For example, pickles that are brine cured will include live probiotic bacteria, while pickles that are made using vinegar or other non-traditional methods will not. For the best results, avoid foods that include artificial sweeteners and flavors, high fructose corn syrup and other unhealthy ingredients that will defeat the purpose of giving the child’s system a boost in the first place.

A specific daily dose of a probiotic supplement may be recommended, depending on the child’s age, size and weight. It's important not to give a child the adult level of probiotics, as this may overwhelm their system. In addition, many healthcare professionals will warn against giving infants probiotic supplements during the first month of life or to children with central nervous system or immune system disorders. Naturopathic pediatricians offer a holistic approach to medicine that includes natural prevention and treatment.

There are countless probiotic supplements on the market, and there are specialized probiotic formulations indicated especially for children and infants. By first making sure it's safe to give a child probiotics and finding out the correct dosage, parents can be sure they're providing their child the boost he or she needs to stay healthy.

 

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