Florida Mom asked
Hi! What’s your thoughts on probiotics for kids? My almost 6 year old son often experiences constipation and/or diarrhea. Would he benefit from a daily probiotic? Thanks!
Probiotics can help maintain a normal gut flora and regular bowel movements, but have not been studied extensively for daily use in the prevention of diarrhea and/or constipation. Talking with your children’s pediatrician will likely be helpful in determining the source of the bowel irregularity. Below we will discuss information on probiotics and the importance of diet and exercise for children.
How Probiotics Work
Probiotics, also known as “good bacteria”, are helpful in maintaining a healthy environment for the gut. They help fend off fungus and harmful bacteria by producing an acidic environment. In addition, Probiotics compete with "bad" or disease causing bacteria for space and nutrients. A common probiotic bacteria species, lactobacilli, are proven to do this. Lastly, some probiotics can produce metabolic products that have antibacterial effects to "bad" organisms. These metabolic products include bactericidal proteins, hydrogen peroxide or lactic acid.
Many probiotics also contain enzymes that help digestion. Probiotics are commonly used to prevent diarrhea while taking antibiotics, but have mixed evidence for infectious diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, and other digestive conditions.
Probiotics are not considered to be a drug, but are actually found in many common foods like yogurt (Activia and others), cheese, and even dark chocolate. In addition, several probiotics are available over-the-counter in supplement form including Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces.
If you are looking for a specific probiotic product to aid in the treatment of diarrhea, much evidence points to the lactobacillus species as being one of most beneficial as it may significantly reduce symptoms such as abdominal pain, flatulence and bloating. As the use of probiotics is still relatively new, more studies need to be undertaken to get a better understanding of which probitoic may be the most beneficial for a given situation. It may be a good idea to look for a combination probiotic product containing multiple species of bacteria.
It is important to note that unlike pharmaceuticals, nutritional supplements are not regulated by the FDA and are not forced to meet the same strict standards. This also means that there is limited data on the use of probiotics, but they have been used clinically for quite some time safely.
To conclude, probiotics are commonly used for general health, to treat diarrhea and to maintain "regularity". They have a very good safety profile and few side effects have been reported. There is limited data however on the benefits of taking probiotics daily for general health.
Importance Of Nutrition And Exercise:
When dealing with irregular bowels, it may be important to assess the child’s diet prior to adding nutritional supplements or other over-the-counter aids like stool softeners. Also, the child may have adverse reactions to some foods like milk (lactose intolerant).
Speaking to your child’s pediatrician is the best way to get advice on specific questions regarding diet. Generally, a well-balanced diet, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources are preferred. Restricting added sugar (especially in beverages), sodium, and red meat is considered healthier.
Adequate intake of fiber is essential for regularity of bowels. For your 6 year old son, the American Heart Association and Institute of Medicine recommends 25 grams per day. This can be obtained by eating beans, vegetables, fruits, and grains. Too much fiber can lead to diarrhea and too little fiber can lead to constipation.
Other factors that could lead to irregular bowel movements include lack of exercise and inappropriate fluid intake. The AHA recommends for children to have at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic activity every day of the week. The Institute of Medicine also recommends for children 4-8 years old to have 5 cups of water/day.