Let’s talk probiotics today! I hope “Tip of the month: Probiotics 101” will answer many of your questions about probiotics.
What are probiotics?
The word is derived from the Greek name “for life”. Probiotics are live microorganisms that confer health benefits when consumed (see below food sources). Other names for probiotics are: healthy bacteria, beneficial bacteria, and friendly bacteria.
Examples of good, friendly bacteria:
- Bifidobacterium infantis
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
Why do we need probiotics? Here are some reasons:
- Probiotics keep our intestines healthy.
- Probiotics help us digest the food we eat.
- Probiotics support our immune system, helping to prevent and fight infections more efficiently when they happen.
- Probiotics fight the bad bacteria in our gut.
We all have good and bad bacteria growing in our intestinal tract. However, sometimes we have an overgrowth of bad bacteria and depletion of good bacteria.
Common causes for bad bacteria overgrowth and depletion of good bacteria:
- Processed, packaged foods
- Refined sugar
- Stress (mental stress, lack of sleep, etc.)
- Environmental toxins such as pesticides, chemicals found in cosmetics, in personal care products, and in cleaning products
- Chlorinated water
Food sources of probiotics:
Basically, any food that is fermented contains probiotics. Here are some food sources:
- Any fermented vegetables such as cabbage (sauerkraut), cucumbers (pickles), beets (beet kvaas), olives in brine, or a variety of fermented vegetables (kimchi)
- Miso – fermented soybeans made into a paste
- Tempeh – fermented soybeans made into a patty
- Tofu – fermented soy milk
- Kombucha – fermented tea
- Water kefir – fermented drink made with water, water kefir grains, and sweetener
- Milk kefir
Naturally, avoiding the common causes for bad bacteria overgrowth and eating unprocessed foods, as well as plenty of fermented foods, will ensure that our good bacteria thrive and keep us thriving.
What does the science say about probiotics?
A lot of research has been done regarding probiotics and their effect on health and more research is needed. However, here are some benefits of probiotics supported by research:
- Prophylactic use of probiotics during the first 3 months of life resulted in a reduction of daily crying time, regurgitation, and constipation in babies. (source 1)
- When probiotics were combined to lactulose, they significantly increased bowel frequency and improved stool consistency. (source 2)
- Specific probiotics help lower abdominal pain and bloating, as well as improve the frequency and consistency of bowel movements in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. (source 3)
- Probiotics have been shown to help in management of ulcerative colitis. (source 4)
- The severity of diarrhea was lowered after the administration of fermented drinks (yogurt and similar drinks) in children attending day care centers. (source 5)
- Long-term consumption of fermented milk was found to improve the health of preschool children with allergic rhinitis. (source 6)
- It has been found that children with autism have fewer healthy bacteria in their gut. Probiotics could be a treatment tool for children with autism. (source 7)
How to choose a probiotic supplement:
- Choose a probiotic for your child’s age. The label of probiotic clearly specifies the age that the probiotic is optimized for.
- Some probiotics need to be stored in the fridge. And others do not have this requirement. However, they still need to be protected from light, moisture, heat.
- Alternate between probiotics brands. Buy one this month and switch it up with another one next month.
- The greater the number of strains of bacteria the probiotic supplement has, the better.
- The more bacteria (CFU = colony forming units) in the probiotic supplement, the better, as these bacteria die off.
- If possible, choose a probiotic free of dairy, gluten, corn, soy, casein, yeast, artificial colors, flavours, preservatives, sugar, and GMO ingredients.
- Caution: some probiotics have milk products, so check the label carefully before buying if your child is milk intolerant.
- Check for an expiration date, which should tell you how long the bacteria are expected to be viable for.
Where can we buy probiotic supplements?
We can buy probiotic supplements in any health food store. Drug stores also have them, as well as big grocery chains.
How often, for how long, and how much probiotic supplements to give to my child?
If you just began giving your child a probiotic, as a general guideline, start by giving it once a day for 7 days, then increase to twice a day for another 7 days, then three times a day afterwards.
The dosage and the length of time vary according to the child and to the expected outcome. There is no clear cut answer. You might want to help your child with a specific health problem (e.g. constipation, eczema or other skin rashes, irritable bowel syndrome, acne, etc.), you might want to help improve gut bacteria after taking antibiotics, or maybe you and your family need to protect yourselves against traveller’s diarrhea.
Every child is different. The dose, length of time, and type of probiotic that works for one child does not necessarily work for another one.
How to give probiotics to a child?
- Capsules to swallow – if the child is old enough and can swallow capsules
- Open capsules and mix with a little bit of water
- Open capsules and mix with apple sauce (or any other food)
- Liquid form
What if you don’t want to give probiotic supplements to your child?
Then you must ensure that your child has a diet rich in fermented foods mentioned above. Include fermented foods in your child’s diet every day. Giving these foods to your child is always the best way to go, but if your child refuses all fermented foods, then giving them a daily probiotic will help keep their gut healthy.
Here is an easy recipe that features pickles: 3-ingredient salmon spread. Spread it on crackers, toast, or in a wrap. You can also stuff a tomato or a boiled egg with it. Very yummy!
Do you have questions about probiotics? Write them below or contact me here. I will be very happy to answer your questions.
- Prophylactic use of a probiotic in the prevention of colic, regurgitation, and functional constipation: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Pediatr. 2014
- The Effect of Probiotics on Childhood Constipation: A Randomized Controlled Double Blind Clinical Trial. Int J Pediatr, 2014
- Systematic review: probiotics in the management of lower gastrointestinal symptoms in clinical practice – an evidence-based international guide. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2013
- A gastroenterologist’s guide to probiotics. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2012
- 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. 1999
- A randomized prospective double blind controlled trial on effects of long-term consumption of fermented milk containing Lactobacillus casei in pre-school children with allergic asthma and/or rhinitis. Pediatr Res. 2007
“Staying healthy with nutrition” by Elson M. Haas
American Gastroenterological Association – Patient Center (www.gastro.org)
Photo courtesy of gualberto107 at freedigitalphotos.net