Probiotics aren’t new. For most of recorded history, many cultures have used naturally probiotic fermented foods to promote digestive health. Within the past few years, many families have been incorporating probiotic supplements into their daily routines. As interest in probiotic products continues to grow, so does the list of questions.
Here’s what parents need to know about the different types of probiotics, their benefits, and how to use them at home.
What Are Probiotics?
The human body is home to trillions of bacteria, which all play a role in how the body works. There are good bacteria and bad bacteria. Your body uses good bacteria to facilitate digestion, strengthen the immune system, and fight off bad bacteria.
Probiotics are bacteria that serve a helpful purpose in the gut. The human body can’t make all of its own beneficial bacteria, so it needs to obtain some from outside sources.
Any food that has been fermented or cultured, like yogurt or kimchi, contains good bacteria. When you eat these bacteria, they can get to work promoting gut health as they pass through your digestive system.
These bacteria can replicate, but not at a speedy rate. You need to consume them to keep your gut healthy. If you go a day or two without eating a probiotic food, oftentimes your gut won’t have the beneficial bacteria it needs.
That’s where probiotic supplements become useful. Probiotic supplements are daily supplements that contain healthy bacteria that your body may need. Since you take probiotics daily, the bacteria have enough time to efficiently populate the gut and perform their functions.
Good bacteria that complete their lifespan or are passed through the intestines with waste products are promptly replaced by new bacteria from your supplements.
Do Kids Need Probiotics?
Technically speaking, everyone needs beneficial bacteria at all times. Without them, the bad bacteria would take over. Consider the most efficient way to supply your family with foods and/or supplements that optimize gut health. Often supplementation is needed beyond just food.
Probiotics are perfectly safe for healthy children to use on a daily basis. Your child might not experience significant or noticeable benefits if they already have a very healthy gut. If your child’s gut microbiome (bacterial environment) is imbalanced, they may benefit noticeably from probiotics.
Children Who Won’t Eat Probiotic Foods
It’s really tough to put a plate of kimchi in front of a child raised on a western diet and tell them it’s even better than tater tots. If your child is an adventurous eater who likes spicy flavors, they’ll probably dive right in. If your child has a very short list of foods they’ll eat without complaining or trying to hide spoonfuls under their placemat, fermented foods can be a tough sell.
You can continue to offer fermented foods like miso, pickles, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, and yogurt. You can also tell your children how great these foods are and how much grown-ups love them.
This might inspire them to take an interest in foods they would otherwise refuse. Until they learn to enjoy them, you can always use a daily probiotic supplement to help them meet their needs.
Children With Digestive Discomfort
Children often pass gas without shame or embarrassment. You’d likely notice if your child was a lot gassier than normal. Excessive gas can indicate that your child’s digestive system isn’t working as it should be, especially if it’s accompanied by gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, constipation, or diarrhea.
A probiotic supplement can help balance the gut microbiota (the fancy term for bacteria species) and restore things to normal. Digestive discomfort can also be a symptom of lactose intolerance or other food intolerance.
You may also want to have your child checked for food allergies or intolerances to dairy products and other foods. Your pediatrician might recommend an elimination diet to see if digestive discomfort disappears when your child stops eating certain foods.
Children Who Have Recently Used Antibiotics
As a parent, you know you could blindfold your child, spin them around three times, and tell them to find all the germs in the room. They’d get them all on the first try. Which means you’ve probably had some experience with giving your child antibiotics.
Antibiotics and probiotics are nearly complete opposites. The purpose of an antibiotic is to destroy bacteria that can cause illness or infection. Antibiotics don’t have any sort of intelligence, and they can’t be engineered to avoid good bacteria.
They’ll destroy all bacteria, including the ones your gut needs for healthy digestion. That’s why diarrhea is a common side effect of antibiotic use.
When you take probiotics and antibiotics at the same time, you’re replacing the good bacteria at the same rate they’re destroyed. This can prevent or minimize digestive disturbances that occur as a result of antibiotic use.
How Many Types of Probiotics Are There?
There are countless strains of bacteria worldwide, many of which are probiotic strains. The health benefits of probiotics will depend on the specific strains of beneficial bacteria you use. Different strains are used for different purposes.
Some probiotic bacteria work better in topical products, as they’re oriented at promoting skin health. The kind of live microorganisms you ingest support wellness through the digestive tract.
Most probiotic supplements utilize bacteria from one of two families of beneficial bacteria. Live bacteria from these strains are used to promote overall digestive health and immune system support.
The Lactobacillus Family
The lactobacillus family of probiotics is large. It includes lactobacillus rhamnosus, lactobacillus paracasei, lactobacillus plantarum, and lactobacillus reuteri. Sometimes, lactobacillus will simply be abbreviated as a lowercase “l,” like with l. acidophilus.
Lactobacillus-type bacteria are commonly found in healthy gastrointestinal tracts, as well as healthy mouths. They help the body to break down food and absorb nutrients.
As they work, they produce natural lactic acid. This acid is harmless to human health but damaging to bad bacteria. While lactobacillus bacteria support digestion, they’re also helping your immune system by destroying the bad strains of bacteria they encounter.
Lactobacillus bacteria are the most commonly used bacteria in dietary supplements because they’re multifunctional. They can do more to promote and preserve digestive health than other forms of good bacteria.
The Bifidobacterium Family
The bifidobacterium family, including bifidobacterium lactis and bifidobacterium longum, is known for its ability to support digestive regularity. Some people with inflammatory bowel disease incorporate bifidobacterium probiotics into their supplemental care routine.
Bifidobacterium microorganisms are known to address skin health as well as digestive health. Like lactobacillus, bifidobacterium also produces lactic acid. They also produce acetic acid, the same type of acid found in vinegar. These acids help the body to process waste.
Hiya Health offers a probiotic for kids. It’s a chewable probiotic with 10 billion live cultures and a blend of prebiotic fiber and probiotic strains to help support childhood immunity, digestion, and gut health. It’s recommended for kids 2+.
The Supercharged Prebiotic & Probiotic Blend includes kid-specific strains:
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus (GG)
- Lactobacillus paracasei (UALpc-04™)
- Bacillus lactis (Bl-04®)
What Is a CFU in Probiotics?
Probiotics are measured in CFU or colony-forming units. This is the total amount of bacteria a probiotic supplement will introduce into the human gut.
CFU counts are usually measured in the billions, which seems like a lot. The human body contains trillions of bacteria. By comparison, probiotics only contain a modest amount.
There is no standard recommendation for CFU in probiotics. Most probiotic supplements contain anywhere between five billion CFU and 20 billion CFU. A reasonable amount for daily use would be about 10 billion CFU.
It’s impossible to overdose on antibiotics, but it’s best not to take too many. If you use an excessive amount of probiotics, you might experience digestive discomfort.
Too many good bacteria attempting to work at once can quickly create a lot of gas. One probiotic supplement per day often does the trick.
How To Give Kids Probiotics
Probiotics don’t immediately change the gut microbiome. They need to be used consistently to produce noticeable and beneficial effects for digestive health. Positive changes can occur between two weeks and one month of daily use. You should give your child a probiotic supplement every day.
Probiotics don’t necessarily have to be taken with food, but they’ll work much better if they are. The purpose of a probiotic supplement is to make food easier to digest. Try giving your child a probiotic supplement with breakfast every day. The beneficial bacteria will work all day to keep their digestive tract running smoothly.
Monitor your child for changes. It isn’t unusual for someone to experience minor symptoms like gas or a small amount of bloating when they first start taking probiotics. These symptoms are usually very mild, and they’ll decrease with regular use as your child’s body acclimates to the digestive help of probiotics.
The Wrap-Up on Types of Probiotics for Kids
Lactobacillus probiotics are excellent for general use and work well for most people, including kids. Choose a probiotic supplement that provides 10 billion CFU of lactobacillus bacteria for daily use. You can give your child one with their morning meal to promote digestive regularity.
You can also use probiotics and antibiotics simultaneously to reduce digestive symptoms that often occur when people use probiotics. They’re a great way to proactively minimize potentially negative effects. Always check with your healthcare provider before starting new supplements.