You’ve heard that probiotics are important for good digestion and immune function. Does that mean you should supplement your kids? We delve into the latest research about probiotics and health and provide tips for choosing the right supplements for kids. PLUS, learn about three supplement-free ways you can support your kids’ microbiome.
Remember when we were kids, and our parents and doctors led us to believe that bacteria were just plain bad? The story went like this: bacteria made us sick, and antibiotics cured us by wiping out bacteria. Great, right? …
Except that scientific research from the last decade has shown that bacteria are not all bad. Most strains of bacteria in our bodies cause no harm whatsoever, and some, in fact, are downright important to our overall health.
We also know that our bodies are absolutely teeming with the little things. Our mouths, skin, and digestive tract host trillions upon trillions of bacteria: so many that the number of bacterial cells in our bodies roughly equals the number of our own actual cells!
All together, this community of bacteria inside our bodies is called our microbiome. And many doctors and pediatricians now recommend taking probiotic supplements to support a healthy balance in our microbiome.
Read on to learn about the health effects of probiotics, how to choose the right supplements for your kids, and a few non-supplement alternatives that can help kids maintain a healthy flora.
What are the Health Effects of Probiotics in Kids?
Research keeps uncovering more ways bacteria positively affect the health of adults and children. So far, we know that probiotics can prevent or lessen the severity of these conditions:
- Digestive problems like diarrhea, constipation, and IBS
- Allergic reactions like eczema and hay fever
- Colic in babies
- The common cold
- Certain infections, like yeast and urinary tract infections
- Autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease
Are Probiotics Safe for Kids?
Probiotic supplements are safe for most kids, though they might have mild tummy troubles like bloating or gas for the first few days. Though rare, kids with serious immune system problems can have a reaction to these supplements. So if you have any doubt about whether it’s OK to try them out with your kids, make sure to talk to your family’s pediatrician first.
At the end of the day, deciding to give any supplement to your kids is a personal decision. But if your child is struggling with mild to moderate environmental allergies or digestive issues, supplementing with probiotics may help. And it’s unlikely to cause any harm.
What to Look for in Probiotic Supplements
If you’ve decided to buy a probiotic supplement for your kids, prepare yourself for a dizzying array of options. The particular brand you purchase doesn’t matter as much as a few key criteria, which we’ve outlined for you below:
- “Live, active cultures.” Make sure the supplement you choose contains this actual phrase right on the bottle, so you can be sure you’re getting an effective product. Some brands of probiotic supplements even come refrigerated to help protect these living cells.
- High bacteria count. The concentration of bacteria in probiotic supplements is measured in CFUs (that’s “colony forming units.”) Look for a probiotic supplement that has, at a minimum, 1 billion CFUs.
- Multiple strains. Balance matters! Different strains of probiotics can have different health effects. A supplement with eight or ten different strains of bacteria may help to diversify the bacteria that make up your kids’ microbiome.
- Enteric coating. This refers to a hard coating on the outside of the pill that lets it survive the journey through the harsh, acidic stomach. An enteric coating means that bacteria are released in the intestines, where they can thrive.
Three Supplement-Free Ways to Support Your Kids’ Microbiome
Maybe you’re not sold on giving probiotic pills to your kids. That’s totally OK. In fact, there are other ways you can support your kids’ microbiome, without supplementing at all:
- Serve probiotic-rich whole foods. Yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and other fermented foods contain live active cultures right in the food. You can even make these foods yourself at home! Here’s our recipe for culturing your very own yogurt in the Instant Pot.
- Let your kids get a little bit dirty. It turns out, letting kids play in the dirt, and skipping a bath here and there, is actually probably good for them. Early, consistent exposure to a wide variety of bacteria helps diversify their microbiome and improve immune health.
- Serve plenty of PRE-biotic foods. Yep, that’s different than PRO-biotics. “Prebiotics” is basically a fancy word for fiber, and it’s what the healthy bacteria in our bodies like to snack on. You can literally “feed” your kids’ microbiome by serving lots of fiber-rich fruits, veggies, nuts, beans, and whole grains.
I'm a registered dietitian, mom of 4, avid lover of food and strong promoter of healthy habits. Here you will find lots of delicious recipes full of fruits and veggies, tips for getting your kids to eat better and become intuitive eaters and lots of resources for feeding your family.Learn More about Natalie