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Let’s be honest: most kids are a hotbed for germs. Popping items from the floor into their mouths…dragging their hands along public surfaces…sharing toys, snacks, and desks at school…wearing their favorite clothes several days in a row…
No matter how much soap or hand gel they use, children will be teeming with bacteria!
And that’s actually a good thing. You want your kids to have bacteria—as long as it’s “good” bacteria.
But when it’s not the right kind of bacteria, it’s time to step in. Probiotics can restore the correct balance of bacteria in your child’s body and boost their overall health and wellness.
Let’s explore probiotics for kids, including the pros, cons, and side effects, to help you pick the best probiotic for your child.
Do kids need probiotics?
In a nutshell: yes! In fact, although we’re focusing on kids, we all need probiotics.
Just like adults, kids’ bodies are crawling with microbes (bacteria, fungi, yeast, and more). In fact, regardless of hygiene and “germy” behavior, there are not millions but trillions of microbes on your child’s body, including their mouth, nose, skin, and gut.
And it’s the bacteria in the gut that concerns us the most.
Your child’s gut microbiome (where the bacterial colonies live) contains two very different types of bacteria:
- Beneficial bacteria: the good bacteria
- Pathogenic bacteria: the bad bacteria
Beneficial and pathogenic bacteria coexist in a delicate balance, competing for space in the gut microbiome. When one type of bacteria flourishes, it crowds out the other type.
If it’s the beneficial bacteria that are dominating the gut microbiome, then that’s a good thing. Your child will be healthy and happy, free of the digestive and other health issues associated with an imbalanced gut.
Unfortunately, for most children—and adults—that’s not the case. Far more common is the opposite situation, where the “bad” bacteria is present in larger, stronger quantities. This condition, called dysbiosis, is the norm for most people. In fact, your child could be experiencing dysbiosis right now, and you might not even know it!
Probiotics to the rescue
So, how do you rebalance your child’s gut microbiome and allow the good bacteria to flourish once more? It’s all about probiotics.
Probiotics are living microorganisms similar to the ones that occur naturally in our bodies. When added to your child’s diet via food, drinks, or supplements, they promote the growth of beneficial bacteria and rebalance the gut.
Why kids need probiotics
Everyone experiences proliferation of bad bacteria in our gut microbiomes – so we could all use a probiotic boost. But there are some additional reasons why children, in particular, can benefit from the regular intake of quality probiotics.
Taking too many antibiotics
Remember how we talked about the “germiness” of kids? Well, not all of those germs are good ones! As a result, children are treated with antibiotics much more often than adults.
And while those antibiotics kill off the bad bacteria, they also eliminate the colonies of good bacteria. Probiotics help your child’s body restore good bacteria before the bad ones have a chance to “take over” their gut.
Antibiotics are also known to cause digestive side effects, including nausea, vomiting, bloating, indigestion, and diarrhea. Probiotics can help ease these and other GI issues that might occur.
Refusal to potty train
Although it seems simple and natural, potty training is actually quite stressful for children. Many children spend weeks or even months refusing to have a bowel movement on the toilet. Over time, this can cause digestive issues, especially constipation and painful bowel movements.
If you find yourself in this situation, you’ll find that probiotics can be a game-changer. For one thing, they’ll keep things “moving along” so your potty-training child will feel the “need to go.” And probiotics will also help keep stool soft, so when your child does go, it won’t hurt (which would make them even more reluctant to sit on the toilet the next time).
Luckily, probiotics can be taken by kids of any age, including toddlers.
Overworked immune system
Believe it or not, 70% of your child’s immune system is found in their gut. Not surprisingly, this means that a healthy, balanced gut microbiome is essential for their immune system to effectively do its job in protecting the body and keeping it free of illness.
There are two main parts to the immune system.
- The innate immune system is the one your child is born with. It leaps into action whenever it senses an invader.
- The acquired immune system develops over time. For each invader your child fights off, it creates antibodies to protect it the next time.
The acquired immune system takes years to develop—leaving your child vulnerable to a host of childhood illnesses.
But probiotics strengthen the beneficial bacteria colonies, rebalance the gut microbiome, and strengthen the immune system contained in the digestive tract. They might not prevent all childhood infections, but they can lessen their duration and frequency.
In fact, a trial in Mexico showed that daycare attendees who took a probiotic daily for three months were less likely to develop diarrhea, respiratory illnesses, and other common infections.
Probiotics For Younger Children
How young is too young for probiotics? The answer may surprise you: even unborn children can benefit from probiotics, when taken by their mother.
Expectant mothers who take probiotics pass these along to their unborn children. Studies show that this can help reduce the likelihood of their babies developing eczema or allergies.
Another study shows that giving infants under the age of three months probiotics can help reduce acid reflux (a main cause of babies “spitting up”), colic, and constipation.
For children this young, probiotics can be added to infant formula. Once they are old enough, it can be given in baby food or as a supplement.
Signs That Your Child Needs Probiotics
Because probiotics are good for all of us, it’s not necessary to look for signs that your child needs probiotics. You can go ahead and add them to their diet to keep them in tip-top health.
But, there are some clear signs that your child definitely needs to be taking probiotics.
These are some of the most common symptoms of an unbalanced gut microbiome:
- Chronic fatigue
- Halitosis (bad breath)
- Increased stress or anxiety
- Mood disorders, including depression
- Skin issues, such as eczema or acne
- Sugar cravings
- Trouble sleeping
- Unexplained weight fluctuations
Of course, many of these symptoms could have other underlying causes. But if you notice any of these signs in your child and can’t pinpoint the reason why, or notice multiple signs, there’s a good chance your child would benefit from taking probiotics.
How to choose the best probiotic for kids
There are two ways to add probiotics to your child’s regular routine: through foods or with supplements. The method you choose will depend largely on what your child likes to eat, and how much.
Perhaps the easiest way to introduce your child to probiotics is by slowly adding them to their diet through probiotic-rich food and drinks.
Here are some of the most common probiotic-friendly foods and drinks:
- Soft cheeses (only certain varieties)
- Yogurts (look for probiotics on the label)
A quick glance at the list will show you that most of these foods and drinks are fermented. That’s because the fermentation process itself creates an environment that encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria.
Unfortunately, the fermentation process also leaves behind a distinct—and quite strong—taste and smell that won’t appeal to all taste buds. Your best bet might be probiotic-rich yogurt, which comes in a variety of flavors and textures.
With kids being such notoriously picky eaters, you might have a battle on your hands convincing your child to eat probiotic foods. Rather than fight them on it, you can opt for probiotic supplements instead.
Another reason to choose supplements is portion sizes. Your child is probably eating much smaller meals than you are. This means that they’ll be getting much less probiotics from food, too. Supplements mean that your child will be getting a higher dose of this hugely beneficial supplement.
Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing the right probiotic for your child:
- Strain: The most effective strain of probiotics is a spore-based Bacillus strain. These probiotics, such as this one from Just Thrive, are composed of microorganisms that occur naturally in soil. And who are we to argue with Mother Nature?
- Survivability: On its way to your child’s gut microbiome, the probiotic needs to pass through a harsh environment that contains bile, digestive enzymes, stomach acids, and more. Not an easy task! This probiotic from Just Thrive has 1,000 times the survivability of other probiotics, including those found in probiotic-rich foods.
Probiotics for kids? Definitely! Regardless of whether or not your child is showing signs that they need probiotics, they’ll surely benefit from taking them.
Keep in mind their nutritional needs; probiotic-friendly food and drink alone probably won’t be enough. Use our tips above to choose the right supplement for your child, so they can live their happiest, healthiest life.
And remember: it’s never too early to start! Even pregnant mothers can pass along probiotic benefits to their babies.
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