Are you looking for the best probiotics for kids? This article will help answer your questions on the health benefits of probiotics and about the probiotics in food.
If you want to avoid flushing your hard-earned cash down the loo, learn to pick the right probiotic strains. The good probiotics for children will offer surprising health benefits, but here’s a secret.
The benefits of taking probiotics are down to choosing the right strains. Some strains are better for managing childhood eczema or digestive health, whilst other strains help with diarrhoea in children. The best probiotics for kids can, therefore, depend on the strains and their specific health benefits.
Please note that I have included affiliate links to probiotic brands below. These are for products that I regularly use and recommend to my clients working with me at my Harley Street clinic and virtually.
Health benefits of probiotics
To establish the best probiotics for kids, it’s important to understand how probiotics can help. Some of the best probiotics for kids can offer the following health benefits:
- support a healthy immune system
- diarrhoea in children or in children with acute diarrhoea
- management of infant colic
- reduction in the incidence of common children’s allergies (eczema, hay fever)
- irritable bowel syndrome relief
- gut health
- constipation management
- management of necrotising enterocolitis
How probiotics help
Dr Kate Steed, a microbiologist from Optibac Probiotics compared probiotics to the coral reef during our Kids Nutrition Podcast interview. Our microbiome is a collection of live organisms of good bacteria and fungi that colonise and support our digestive system.
She too emphasises, that the health benefits of taking probiotics depend entirely on choosing the right strains for the health condition.
Probiotics in a nutshell help by balancing the friendly bacteria in the gut. When there are more good bacteria than “bad bacteria” colonising the gut, it provides a digestive advantage.
The most common family of probiotic strains include Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria.
Probiotics help by triggering a cascade of chemical reactions in the body which can then offer health benefits. They are especially useful during illness, post-medical treatment and in certain disease prevention. The effectiveness of a probiotic will also depend on your child’s diet, particularly their fibre intake such as prebiotics. More on that later.
Something else to consider is the quality of the probiotic and whether the probiotics have been tested to survive the journey into your child’s gut.
Are probiotics good for kids?
A New Zealand study investigated the role of probiotics in atopic dermatitis. It showed that only Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 helped to reduce eczema and hayfever in school-aged children. When a similar group of children tried the strain Bifidobacterium lactis, it had no effect on their eczema or hay fever.
This highlights that when selecting probiotics for kids, the best probiotic depends on the strains that the manufacturer offers. Always check whether that particular probiotic strain has been shown by research to help your child’s health condition.
But wait, there’s more.
The truth is, the evidence behind the health claims and proposed health benefits of probiotics are still emerging. So there’s heated debate even amongst healthcare professionals on whether probiotics really help.
The good news is that for the majority of children and adults, they are completely safe to take. So if you want to trial a probiotic for your child, it’s usually safe to do so. But before you buy a probiotic supplement, always check which probiotic strains are right for your child’s health condition. Talk to your healthcare professional or paediatric dietitian who understands probiotics if you are not sure.
Probiotics foods for kids
Before we dive into the health benefits of probiotics, let’s take a look at where you can find probiotics. Probiotics are packaged as supplements (powder, capsules, drinks or in pills) but can also be found in the following fermented foods.
Yoghurt is an easy choice of probiotic food for kids. If your child is following a dairy-free diet, check whether probiotics have been added to the dairy-free alternative. Tempeh is a delicious soy food and a good protein alternative for kids who refuse meat.
Kefir water is another good alternative for children who need to follow a dairy-free diet. Sauerkraut and kimchi may need to be reserved for the more adventurous eaters.
The common types of live cultures in yoghurt, fermented milk and certain cheese include lactobacillus casei. Our bodies naturally contain lactobacillus casei, in our digestive system. I’ll take you through the benefits of this good bacteria later.
Other probiotic strains that can be found in fermented foods include E. faecalis, L. mesenteroides, L. brevis, P. cerevisiae and L. plantarum.
Probiotics for toddler diarrhoea
Lactobacillus Rhamnosus GG is one of the best probiotics for kids. It’s no surprise that it’s often featured as one of the top 10 probiotics for kids.
Rhamnosus GG, in particular, has been very widely studied through clinical trials. This strain was first discovered by two scientists in 1985. The brand Culturelle, for example, contains rhamnosus GG and is one of the good probiotics for kids.
What’s unique about rhamnosus GG is that it can bind to the gut wall. This stops other pathogens from binding and growing. This ultimately helps prevent or reduce the risk of intestinal infection.
This makes it an excellent daily probiotic for children. Clostridium difficile or C.difficile, for example, is a type of bacterial infection that causes diarrhoea in children.
For children with this type of acute diarrhoea, Rhamnosus GG could be beneficial. Unfortunately, the scientific evidence wasn’t robust enough for it to be routinely recommended during infectious diarrhoea. Instead, a yeast called Saccharomyces boulardii sounds promising.
The evidence for supplementing with rhamnosus GG is stronger in children with rotavirus and other types of infectious diarrhoea. It was particularly helpful in reducing repeated episodes. The main downside of the research is the small patient numbers.
Probiotics and antibiotics
Better yet, the strongest evidence for this strain is in preventing antibiotic-related diarrhoea. It is not clear whether the probiotic needs to be started before or at the same time as the antibiotics. A dose as small as 1-2 billion CFU (colony forming units) is effective, whilst up to 10 billion CFU was used in other trials.
Summary: best probiotics for toddler diarrhoea (antibiotic-related) available in powder or as drops for babies
How probiotics help the immune system
Research has shown that probiotics can cut the severity and duration of coughs and colds.
Optibac offers a children’s range that contains the strains Lactobacillus acidophilus Rosell-52, B. bifidum Rosell-71 and B. infantis Rosell-33.
Lactobacillus acidophilus Rosell-52, in particular, has been shown by research to help reduce the risk of antibiotic-related diarrhoea.
However, the combination of the three strains found in Optibac baby and children range was tested in a clinical trial of toddlers under 5 years of age. These children had previously been hospitalised for respiratory infections and wheezing at least once a month. After three months of taking the probiotic supplement, the children experienced reduced rates of respiratory infections.
Another study of toddlers aged 3-5 years of age, investigated Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM on its own and as a blend with Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07. This clinical trial found that when children took the combination probiotics for six months, they benefited from enhanced immunity.
More good news for parents. The children who tried the probiotics experienced a shorter duration of fever, coughing, and rhinorrhea (runny noses) by 30-50%, compared to those who didn’t take the supplement.
This, of course, meant that children who took the probiotic supplements didn’t need to take as much time off daycare and school.
Best probiotic strains for immunity: Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM, Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07, B. infantis Rosell-33, L. acidophilus Rosell-52 and B. bifidum Rosell-71.
Probiotics for the prevention of atopic dermatitis
Eczema is a common type of atopic dermatitis. It affects 15% to 20% of children and 1% to 3% of adults worldwide.
A systematic review and meta-analysis recommend starting probiotics early during pregnancy and for the first 6 months of baby’s life. This could be advantageous particularly if a pregnant woman has a history of allergies and eczema herself.
To prevent atopic dermatitis, supplementing with L. rhamnosus and L. paracasei during pregnancy and beyond were shown to be the most effective. However, no benefits were documented when supplementation continued beyond the baby’s 1st birthday.
Rhamnosus should not be confused with the probiotic rhamnosus GG. A meta-analysis of 5 randomized clinical trials found that the latter did not reduce the risk of eczema in children. This was the case even if taken early during pregnancy.
Here’s an exciting piece of research. A New Zealand study was the first randomised controlled trial to show that Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 can be beneficial for childhood eczema. The key is to start supplementation with rhamnosus HN001 early from 35 weeks of pregnancy until two years of age.
The health benefits of rhamnosus HN001 include reduced risk of childhood eczema by 44% until the child’s 6th birthday and beyond. The protection continued even after supplementation was stopped by the child’s 2nd birthday. This confirms that not all probiotics are the same.
Rhamnosus HN001 is also thought to reduce symptoms of postpartum depression in women.
Best probiotics for kids to reduce eczema/prevention of atopic dermatitis:
L. rhamnosus HN001, L. paracasei, L.rhamnosus HNOO1
L.rhamnosus (not HN001 specific) with other strains in a probiotic supplement by Natures Aid Kidz Pro-5
L.rhamnosus present (but not HN001 specific), in Vitabiotics Peppa Pig’s range (age 3 years onwards)
Probiotics and milk allergy
Cow’s milk protein allergy is one of the most common types of food allergy in children. New research confirms that one of the health benefits of probiotics is in its ability to help children outgrow their milk allergy earlier. This can be as early as 24 and 36 months when probiotics are used in conjunction with their elimination diet and hypoallergenic formula.
Probiotics could potentially prevent allergy through interaction with the intestinal immune cells, especially in early life. The most common strain trialled in babies with cow’s milk protein allergy is rhamnosus GG.
One study reviewed the differences in stools of babies when offered formula with added Bifidobacterium breve M-16V and prebiotics. Cow’s milk tolerance acquisition was not assessed in this study.
As with other strains, further long-term studies are required to confirm the benefits of probiotics in children with cow’s milk protein allergy.
If probiotics do appeal, the best probiotics to try are rhamnosus GG and Bifidobacterium breve M-16V. At present the latter is added into a specialist amino acid infant formula. If you source this separately, do check that the product is suitable on a milk free diet.
Probiotics for infants to buy
Probiotics for excess crying and colic
One of the suggested health benefits of probiotics is in the management of infant colic. Excessive infant crying is common but can be distressing for parents especially if it persists for over 3 hours daily.
A meta-analysis and systematic review published in JAMA showed a probiotic called Lactobacillus reuteri (L reuteri) could be worth exploring. This probiotic strain reduced the duration of crying, but only in babies who were breastfed, born at term and younger than 3 months.
A further meta-analysis in 2018 confirmed that L. reuteri may be beneficial for breastfed babies with colic, but not in formula-fed babies.
Best probiotic for babies with colic: L reuteri as found in the branded product BioGaia.
Probiotic yoghurt for kids
If you are looking for a probiotic yoghurt for kids, you may find that some yoghurt drinks contain Lactobacillus casei Shirota. This strain is present in the brand Yakul, one of the earliest commercial probiotics first sold. Fun fact, it was discovered around 1935!
In adults, this strain has been shown to improve constipation.
The opposite was found to be true in children.
Is Yakult good for kids?
Shirota helped reduce the symptoms of diarrhoea in a children’s trial in India but only by 14%.
Other benefits of this strain include reduced frequency of colds in athletes and in smokers.
Similarly, yoghurt ranges like Activia also contain added probiotic strains, including Bifidobacterium lactis.
B. lactis BB-12 has been shown in adult clinical trials to be effective in relieving symptoms of constipation. Again, the opposite was true for infants. A clinical trial of 90 infants showed that this strain was effective in preventing diarrhoea.
As you can see, the best probiotics for children isn’t straight forward.
The key message is to try the right strain for the specific symptom you wish to solve.
Prebiotics and Probiotics for kids
Did you know that prebiotics are important food for probiotics? Prebiotics are the non-digestible food ingredients that probiotics feed on.
Probiotics feed on prebiotics to grow good bacteria in the gut. As these friendly bacteria grow and colonise in the gut, they can aid digestion and general immunity. They also enhance the production of fat-soluble vitamins (vitamin K) and water-soluble B vitamins.
Galactooligosaccharides (GOS) and Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are two examples of prebiotics.
Which foods contain FOS & GOS?
- legumes and beans: falafels, all types of beans
- some nuts: cashews, pistachios
- some vegetables e.g. artichoke (globe), leeks, onions, garlic, spring onions, green peas,
- bread & cereals e.g. wheat/rye/barley-based breakfast cereals and bread, pasta and pumpernickel bread, barley flakes, couscous
- plant drinks: soy drink (from soybeans)
- fruit: dried fruit (mango, fig, pineapple), dates, persimmon
As you can see, there’s a big range of foods that provide prebiotics so please don’t worry if your child hates artichoke! The key is to include a variety of these plant foods in your child’s diet.
The best probiotics for kids will depend on the key health problem that you would like to manage. The health benefits of probiotics for children do vary.
At present, research suggests that probiotics can help with enhanced immunity, reduced risk of antibiotic-related diarrhoea plus improved outcomes for eczema and dairy allergy. The overall quality of the research varies for each strain and its related health claims. Nevertheless, they are safe to take.
If your child has a medical condition, you are pregnant, or your child has a compromised immune system, or diagnosed with short bowel syndrome, please talk to a healthcare professional and the probiotic manufacturer before starting probiotics.
Don’t be surprised if it takes at least a few months for your child to fully experience the promised health benefits. Sometimes, probiotics may not work and there are many reasons for this. Where possible, do purchase pharmaceutical grade probiotics and remember to check that they provide at least 1 CFU of live bacteria.
Children can also eat probiotic foods such as yoghurts to nurture their digestive system.
Finally do remember to include prebiotic foods in your child’s diet. Variety is key and your child’s digestive system will be thankful for the fibre rich prebiotic foods.
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