What Do Probiotics Do?


What Do Probiotics Do? …and should I give them to my child?


I’m always asked “What do Probiotics do?” Probiotics are beneficial bacteria which are available to us in supplement form, offering our bodies specific health benefits. The digestive system is home to hundreds of different types of bacteria. They help keep our intestines healthy, assist in digesting food and also help our immune systems. 

Probiotics come in a variety forms, including liquids, powders, tablets and capsules, however, beneficial bacteria can also be found in naturally fermented foods. Ideally, you want to incorporate foods with probiotics or probiotic supplements into your diet on a daily basis for overall good health. For theraputic use, specific probiotic strains may be useful for particular health concerns and often taking higher amounts found in quality probiotic supplements will be more beneficial.


What can probiotics help with?

Probiotics are often given during a course of antibiotics to prevent side effects affecting the digestive system or immediately following antibiotics to repopulate the gut with beneficial bacteria.  Children who suffer from allergies or eczema may also benefit from taking probiotics.  If your child is dealing with constipation, reflux or other digestive issues, a probiotic would also be recommended.  In addition, probiotics are a great way to boost your child’s immune system, which can be particularly helpful during the winter months or when your child is starting daycare/school.


What is the best way to give probiotics to kids?

Foods with Probiotics

Foods with probiotics or beneficial bacteria such as yogurt*, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, kimchi and other naturally fermented vegetables are great to include into your child’s diet. We often think that children will not enjoy these stronger flavours, but you would be surprised!  Most kids I see in my practice LOVE pickles, so why not switch to the naturally fermented types rather than the vinegar based pickles?  You can even make naturally fermented pickles quite easily at home and they are ready to eat in as little as 3 days!

* Yogurts containing probiotics are heavily marketed these days but are not always the best choice. Probiotic yogurt brands often use trademarked strains of probiotics and then promote themselves as being the best probiotic yogurt on the market because they are the only yogurt which contains that particular strain.  Typically these are not the most beneficial strains of probiotics to be introducing into our digestive tracts and the amounts included are generally not sufficient to have a therapeutic effect.

Probiotic Supplements

If your kids are not into fermented foods or have more acute health concerns that would benefit from a larger amount or specific strain of probiotics, then giving it to them in supplement form might be a good option.  Look for probiotic formulas that are in a liquid or powder form.  These are virtually tasteless and can easily be mixed into your child’s favourite food or beverage.

What do probiotics do in the form of a supplement; in general, a probiotic formula containing multiple strains of probiotics would be ideal, but there are often times when a specific strain can be more beneficial.  For example, certain strains of infant probiotics have shown to be effective for colic, other probiotic strains are more effective for IBS or for diarrhea.  It is always best to consult with a healthcare practitioner who has knowledge in this area to determine which specific strains or formulas would be most beneficial for your child.


Can my child and I take the same probiotic supplement? 

It depends on the age of your child.  An infant’s digestive tract will contain different strains of bacteria than an adult so they would require specific infant probiotics.  Once a child is eating regular solid food meals and has either weaned off of breast milk/formula or has significantly reduced their intake (typically over the age of one), then their bacteria would be similar to that of an adult.  At that point, an adult probiotic can be given, as long as it is offered in a form that they can handle, such as powder or liquid rather than in capsule form.

Read this great article on Healthy Drinks for Kids!

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Aviva Allen

About Aviva Allen

Aviva is one of Toronto's leading nutritionists with a specialty in Kids' Nutrition. For more info visit Aviva Allen's Website

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