The latest buzz word in the health and beauty industry is probiotics. They can be found in everything from protein shakes and yogurt to skin care products. So, what makes these little critters so beneficial for our children?
First let’s find out what they are. Probiotics are live microorganisms, friendly bacteria. Our digestive tract naturally contains trillions of bacteria, some good and some not so good. Good bacteria promotes health throughout the body while bad bacteria causes imbalance and eventual illness. Probiotics help balance our digestive system by making it difficult for the bad bacteria to take over. Probiotics have been shown to be beneficial in several areas including digestive health, nutrient absorption, immune function, respiratory infections, and diarrhea/colitis from antibiotic use. Probiotics have also been linked to the increased production of antibodies in babies and children protecting them from allergies later in life.
“For children in therapy, probiotics provide added immune support and nutrients to aid their bodies response to and recovery from therapy,” says Danielle Kaempfer, MS RD/LD.
Probiotics can be found in several foods at your local grocery store such as yogurt, yogurt drinks, energy bars, cereals, cheeses, or as a supplement. A probiotic may contain just one strain of bacteria or several, depending on the product and its intended use. The bacteria must be “live” to be effective but can have a long shelf life. Probiotics are measured in CFUs (colony forming units), the measurement of live microbes. A responsible manufacturer will make sure that its probiotic product has the same strain(s) used in clinical studies and that it is effective through the end of its shelf life.
Some of the most widely used strains of bacteria are: Lactobacillus acidophilus which has long been used to help with gastrointestinal disorders, especially diarrhea associated with antibiotic use. Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (Lactobacillus GG) has been shown to be beneficial in the prevention of rotavirus diarrhea in children, reduction of respiratory tract infections in children, and the potential treatment and prevention of dermatitis. Bifidobacterium promotes good digestion, boosts the immune system, and helps control intestinal ph.
There is still a lot of research that needs to be done in the area of probiotics. Many new strains are discovered every day. The link between probiotics and health is still emerging and more clinical studies are needed. But for now, probiotics appear to be “nice”.