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Should my kids take a probiotic supplement?

An image of a child with some kids probiotic

Everyone of us has bacteria in our system, primarily in the gut, in our saliva and on our skin. The 'good' bacteria, or microbes, work in harmony with us and play an important role in all sorts of everyday functions. They help by strengthening our immune system, dealing with toxins, managing how our food is digested and even controlling hormones which dictate how hungry we are and how fat is stored.

The key is to maintain the balance of 'good' and 'bad' bacteria in favour of the helpful ones (of course!) and one way to encourage that is to put more of them in, in the form of a probiotic. Many of us parents use probiotic supplements and, as the health benefits are becoming more widely known, you might be wondering should kids take a probiotic supplement too? In short: yes. In this blog we'll explore kids' gut health, and how a healthy gut microbiome in children can help prevent things like constipation, diarrhoea, and even eczema and allergies.

Encouraging a healthy gut microbiome in children Did you know that children begin to develop their microbiome in the womb? It continues to develop throughout early childhood, particularly if they are breastfed. Breastmilk contains both probiotics and prebiotics, which is what the good bacteria feed off. The development of a microbiome in early life is impacted by many factors, including childbirth and breastfeeding, the chemicals we use to clean our homes, air pollution, exposure to dirt, our diet, and stress.

According to Allergy UK the percentage of children diagnosed with allergic rhinitis (hayfever) and eczema have both trebled over the last 30 years. A leading theory behind the rising allergy diagnosis rates is the "hygiene hypothesis." This theory suggests that living conditions in much of the world might be too clean and that kids aren't being exposed to the diverse germs that train their immune systems to tell the difference between harmless and harmful irritants. We have developed a lifestyle that appears to be impacting our children's health, so it is even more important to reintroduce a balance of microbes. Some studies say probiotics help children with digestive issues such as:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome: An Iranian study conducted with children in 2012 concluded that using probiotics, specifically Lactobacillus, resulted in a significant decrease in the severity of the patients' IBS pain and also a significant improvement in the scale after two weeks of treatment.
  • Infectious diarrhoea: The American Academy of Family Physician states that 'the use of probiotics early in the course of diarrhoea from acute viral gastroenteritis may reduce its duration by one day in otherwise healthy infants and young children.' Studies on specific strains of microbes known as  reuteri and Saccharomyces boulardii were investigated in 2014 and showed 'significantly reduced diarrhea duration'.
  • Eczema: In April 2015a study looked at babies and children taking two probiotic strains, Lactobacillus paracasei and Lactobacillus fermentum. These were given singly or in combination and tested against a placebo in children between 0 and 18-years-old with moderate atopic dermatitis (eczema). After three months, children in all the probiotics groups showed improved eczema symptoms, with the benefits remaining for a month after the child stopped taking the probiotic supplement.
  • Allergies: This study in the Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases and Medical Microbiology researched the effect of probiotics on food allergies in Chinese children. It tested the strain of microbes Bifidobacterium lactis and concluded that allergic symptoms were alleviated after three-months of taking the probiotic. Rash grades, eczema scores, abdominal cramps, and vomiting were reduced significantly after long-term consumption.
Here are a few simple ways to encourage a healthy and diverse gut microbiome in kids:
  1. First and foremost, the best way to encourage healthy gut microbiome in anyone, children included, is by making sure to tick the commonly known boxes to good health: eating a varied diet of fruit and vegetables, limiting your consumption of processed foods and sugars, making sure to get plenty of sleep, fresh air and exercise.
  2. To supplement a healthy lifestyle, consume live bacteria directly. This could either be in the form of kefir or live-bacteria containing yoghurts. Another great option is a good children's probiotic liquid such as microbz kids probiotics (previously Bio-Live Kids) which has all the strains researched above. You can add it to regular drinks as an excellent way of boosting the good bacteria.
  3. Avoid unnecessary antibiotics. This form of medication can be life-saving and really is important for certain bacteria-based illnesses, but the issue is they don't target just the 'bad' bacteria, they kill them ALL off. Avoiding overuse of antibiotics if they're not strictly necessary is a good way of protecting the good bacteria in your child's system.
  4. Get grubby! Children who are exposed to the diverse microbes, through playing in the grass and in soil, or living with a family pet, build up a good exposure to a variety of microbes. So don't be too hasty with scrubbing them up. Similarly, taking a more relaxed approach to sterilising everything, and using more natural cleaning products can all help build a good microbiome and strengthen their immune systems.

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