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Health 

The Benefits of Probiotics for Kids

November 04, 2020 8 min read

Young girl playing with wooden blocks

When you hear the word “bacteria,” what comes to mind? Perhaps it reminds you to restock your dwindling supply of disinfectant wipes, or finally clean that drawer in the fridge you’ve had on your to-do list for weeks now. What you might not think about is the abundant population of bacteria housed in your body, mostly found in the gut. Before you shudder, don’t worry: The majority of these bacteria are harmless and, in fact, play an important role in the health of your microbiome.

When the right colonies of bacteria take up residence in your gut, the benefits to well-being are reflected on the skin and throughout your body. On the flip side, if the colonies of the gut's microbiome become imbalanced, you may experience health problems.

Probiotics are living microorganisms that are mostly bacteria, with some exceptions of certain types of yeast. As a result, there are many types of probiotics that can be found in food or taken as supplements. Depending on the health benefits you’re seeking from probiotics, you can tailor which strains you want to target in your regimen. Given that each probiotic is made up of unique microorganisms that contribute to gut health, a diverse intake of fermented foods andsmart supplementation can provide a comprehensive boost to wellness.

Today, many adults are familiar with the concept of incorporating live bacteria via probiotics into their bodies; however, some may feel hesitant to follow the same process with their kids. If you’re on the fence as a parent, read on as we discuss the pros and potential cons of giving your child probiotics.

Probiotics at a Glance

Probiotics are living microorganisms that, once ingested, offer a range of health benefits. These organisms can either be taken as supplements or through the food you eat. Many people prefer to take them as supplements to target the probiotic strains that best complement their health needs. Supplements can also keep them more at ease: They won’t need to stress over whether they ate the right amount of fermented food, picked the right foods or processed the foods in the proper way to maintain a high-quality probiotic content.

Probiotics in food

Certain fermented foods contain probiotics that can positively affect the gut. These are not similar to any other micro- or macro-nutrient. They also do not constitute the specific food in its natural state, but are the result of fermentation dominated by bacterial growth. Kids are encouraged to start incorporating these types of foods in their early years to help them build healthy dietary habits. The most common probiotic-rich foods are identified below.

Photo of smoothie with probiotic-rich yogurt and strawberries

Yogurt

Yogurt is the number one dietary source of probiotics. When milk is fermented by gut-friendly bacteria like that of lactic acid and bifidobacteria, it becomes yogurt. The bacteria present in yogurt transforms the lactose sugar into lactic acid which gives it its sour taste. Among its many health benefits are promotion of bone health and boosting of the immune system.

Parents are advised to start incorporating yogurt into their kids’ diets, particularly varieties that are low in sugar. Unlike regular milk, yogurt can often be tolerated by those who are lactose intolerant. Yogurt also helps maintain the gut health of your child: It can help combat occasional diarrhea as well as relieve other gut issues (1).

On another note, yogurt is also an excellent snack that provides children and adolescents with protein, calcium, vitamin B12 and phosphorus. So, by feeding yogurt, you are benefiting both the gut microflora and bones (2).

Pickles

These are cucumbers pickled in a solution made of salt and water. Over time, they begin fermenting due to their natural content of lactic acid bacteria. This is also what gives them their sour flavor. Pickles are high in probiotics and vitamin K. They are safe for children to consume, but do avoid the ones pickled in vinegar as they do not contain live probiotics.

Cheese

Certain cheeses are high in probiotics. Despite the fact that most cheeses are fermented, very few retain their live bacteria content. When you shop for cheese for your child, make sure you know which ones have live bacteria that survived the aging process. Some that are rich in probiotics are gouda, mozzarella, cheddar and cottage cheese (3). The reason behind the high content of probiotics in cheese is its low acidity and high fat preserves. Both factors encourage the growth of microorganisms.

When selecting a cheese that contains living microorganisms, look for those made with raw and unpasteurized milk. Also keep in mind, the types of cheese you process at home have a higher probiotic content than the ones you buy from the store. At stores, look for cheeses that have the following claims: “organic”, “probiotic” or “made from raw milk.”

Buttermilk

Buttermilk is the liquid left out after making butter and constitutes a popular category of fermented dairy drinks. The most common types of buttermilk are traditional or cultured. It’s high in probiotics and, when made at home, is known as “grandma’s probiotics”. The cultured types of buttermilk that you buy from the supermarket do not necessarily have probiotic benefits because the added sugars can kill the live bacteria (4). You can incorporate buttermilk into your child’s diet in the forms of smoothies among others, but look for the least processed ones when purchasing.

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is a shredded cabbage fermented with lactic acid. It’s a traditional German food that has gained popularity in the United States. In addition to its probiotics, sauerkraut is rich in fiber, vitamins C, B, K and iron. It’s also high in antioxidants that promote vision health.

Sauerkraut is a great way to promote a healthy bacterial balance in your child’s gut. It’s recommended to be included in your child’s daily diet as it offers more than 35% of the recommended Vitamin C (5). Studies have shown that sauerkraut can benefit brain health as it boosts the absorption of certain minerals like magnesium and zinc. These are considered to be mood enhancers. Other studies explain how this shredded fermented cabbage promotes healthy brain function and memory support (6).

Photo of miso soup in a bowl next to a teacup

Miso

Miso is a Japanese paste made from soybeans and other ingredients such as barley, rice and rye. It comes in many colors (white, red, brown and yellow) and is a salty addition to savory dishes. High in fiber and proteins, miso is associated with health benefits including healthy immune support (7). While many countries consume miso on a daily basis with their children, it’s not very common among American kids. Miso is actually a great food to support the nervous system, strengthen the skeletal system and keep the gut functioning well.

Kefir

This fermented milk is produced by adding kefir grains to the milk of a cow or goat. These grains contain lactic acid bacteria and yeast that take on the appearance of cauliflower. The word ‘kefir’ originates from Turkey and means ‘feeling good.’ Among its many health benefits are maintaining bone health, as well as protecting against digestive problems (8). Even though yogurt is marketed as the best dietary source of probiotics, kefir actually contains a higher number of live microorganisms.

Similar to yogurt, children who are lactose intolerant can generally tolerate kefir without experiencing any adverse effects. You can incorporate it into your child’s diet by having it as a simple drink or as a smoothie with some added fruits.

These probiotic-rich foods can be used in many ways within a child’s diet. From snacks to small dishes, they can provide live bacteria and their accompanying health benefits. Do keep in mind that home preparation is minimally invasive to these beneficial organisms while commercial processing may diminish their nutritional value.

For those who want to offer the health-promoting benefits of live bacteria to their kids but don’t have time to prepare the probiotic-rich foods mentioned above, adding kid-friendlyprobiotics supplements to the diet can be a great way to keep your child healthy and well.

Health Benefits of Probiotics for Kids

In the body, a colony of microorganisms make up the microbiome. These are made of “good” and “bad” bacteria, viruses and fungi. They live everywhere: on the skin, in the gut and urogenital tract, as well as in the saliva. When these colonies are balanced, they promote health and well-being in children.

Probiotics are a group of good bacteria found within healthy microbiome populations. They have myriad health benefits and are essential to a child’s well-being. In 2012, a study explained that probiotics are now the third most common natural products that children are using (9).

Probiotics appear in the gut earlier than you think

If you are worried about the idea of giving your child live bacteria, rest assured that your child has been exposed to these from the time they were in the womb. Since then, your child's body has been working hard to develop its own microbiome.

While doctors always rested on the idea that the womb is a sterile place, this way of thinking has been rejected over the past 10 years. Microbial communities are found in the amniotic fluid, the umbilical blood cord and the placenta. These live organisms constitute the building blocks of the baby’s future microbiome. In addition, the child who is delivered vaginally gets exposed to the mother’s microbiome, which increases their exposure to healthy microorganisms (9).*

Two kids playing together

Probiotics and gut health

Many studies have explored the use of probiotics in the health and well-being of children. A study published in the Journal of Family Physicians explains that probiotics are excellent additions to the diets of healthy children as they help to support a balanced gut microbiome and healthy immune function (12). The study added that probiotics can help support healthy gut function in children while helping with digestive issues like occasional diarrhea.*

Studies like this one followed a series of anecdotal evidence supporting the use of probiotics in children over four years of age. However, research indicates that the strain of a probiotic is important to consider when targeting specific health benefits. Now scientists are redirecting their attention towards understanding the specificity of strains and the organs and ailments they target.

Probiotics and the immune system

The immune system is the body’s number one shield against outside invaders. The stronger the immune system, the more likely your child is to have the defenses they need. While vitamin C and zinc play major roles in boosting the immune system, probiotics can play a role in this protection.*

The relationship is simple: Good bacteria have the ability to communicate with the body’s immune cells. When something in the body goes wrong, different parts of the body communicate to get the proper army ready to combat any nuisance from foreign invaders. Probiotics help form a barrier throughout the intestinal lining, fighting against the passage of harmful bacteria through the body (14).*

In addition to the immune benefits offered by probiotics, these friendly bacteria can help regulate gas, tame occasional bloating and constipation, and promote healthy gut function (15). Recent studies are also forming a link between probiotic intake and healthy brain function (16). In providing mood and memory support, probiotics are being studied in a more pronounced way to ensure everyone is benefiting from such a simple addition to their daily lifestyle.*

Before adding probiotics or any supplement into your child’s regimen, it’s important to seek approval from their pediatrician first. Having the pediatrician review the label in conjunction with your child’s health history can give you the peace of mind you need to get your little one started with the benefits of probiotics.

Probiotics for immune support

Probiotics, in particular those formulated with Lactobacillus rhamnosus, can help to provide a year-round immune boost to children. In fosteringhealth of the gut microbiome, probiotics promote a strong intestinal immune response (10). In studies, supplementation with Lactobacillus rhamnosus among children has also been shown to provide support for immune-related skin issues (11).

Formulated with the immune-boosting additions of vitamin C and zinc,Physician’s Choice Children’s Probioticprovides year-round immune support for your little ones.*

In summary

Probiotics are living microorganisms with the science-backed potential to benefit the health and well-being of children. Despite being composed of bacteria, probiotics can positively impact the immune system, gut health and mental well-being.*

Many fermented foods are high in these probiotic microorganisms, such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles and miso. While several of these foods can be found in supermarkets, the majority of them lose their probiotic power due to industrial food processing. The best way to benefit from probiotics through food is by preparing them at home. For those who do not have the time to do so, picking the right probiotic supplement is essential.