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10 Mar 2021
All parents want to support their children’s health, and one of the most important ways to do this is to start from the inside out – with their gut. Probiotics can be an easy addition to their daily routine to boost their gut health, which in turn impacts their digestion, immune health, skin health and mental wellbeing. This article will help you to find the best probiotics for your kids and suggest some easy ways to take them - even for the fussiest eaters!
If your children are generally fit and healthy, you might wonder if they need probiotics. However, if you read the second article in our ‘Early life microbiome series’, ‘Child Microbiome: Dr Kate's Guide’, you'll can see that the balance of the gut microbiome is very important and that these populations of friendly bacteria can be easily disrupted. In fact, the childhood years can be a very challenging time for the microbiome. Factors such as school, stress, high sugar & low fibre diet, medications/antibiotics, and busy lifestyles can impact your child’s microbiome composition and reduce levels of friendly bacteria.
Therefore, giving your children probiotics, also known as live cultures, can provide them with that extra support they may need in the hustle and bustle of daily life.
Let’s take a brief look at some key areas in which the gut microbiome plays a part in your child's health:
Your child is growing fast! As such it’s vital they are digesting their food and absorbing the nutrients well. Our microbiome provides digestive enzymes to help kids to break down their food1. Plus, they support a healthy gut environment ensuring good nutrient absorption. Many microbes in our gut can also produce essential vitamins!2
Schools are notorious hangouts for harmful bugs; they seem to be all over the classroom and play areas! A government report studying the 2018/2019 academic year found on average children missed 5% (approx. 8 days) of the academic year due to illness3. This may not sound high, but consider if those days fell over exam periods, day trips or important days for you at work. With 70% of our immune system being located in the gut, you can support your child’s immune system with probiotics. Our microbes essentially act as teachers, they help ensure the immune system is responding to threats appropriately. Probiotics can even become part of our friendly bacteria barrier which protects our gut cells and immune system. Find out more about your child's immune health in Boost Your Child's Immune System.
Healthcare professionals can find out more about the complex relationship between probiotics and the immune system in this article on our sister site, Probiotic Professionals: Probiotics for Immunity.
Approx. 1 in 9 children between age 5-15 suffers from a mental health disorder in the UK4. Probiotics may be able to modulate our mood via the gut-brain axis. It’s estimated that 90% of serotonin, otherwise known as our ‘happy hormone’ (although it is actually a neurotransmitter), is produced in the gut. The neurotransmitter GABA is important for helping us to ‘switch off’ and sleep. GABA can be produced by friendly bacteria in the gut such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli5. You can read more on the Gut-Brain Axis and Probiotics.
Children often suffer with skin problems, from eczema to pre-teen acne. Approx. 1 in 5 children in the UK suffer with eczema6. The gut-skin axis is starting to be explored and we can see that conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis are linked to gut health. Probiotics may be able to improve skin health by supporting a healthy gut lining, increasing the levels of good bacteria in the gut, and calming down inflammation7. For more information, take a look at Probiotics for Acne and Skin Health.
Healthcare professionals can find out more about eczema and the latest probiotic research in the article ‘Do probiotics help with eczema?’, on Probiotic Professionals.
When looking for a probiotic for children, it is best to look for supplements containing probiotic strains that have been specifically researched in this age group, ie infants, babies and children. Although it’s typically reported that the microbiome settles at around 3 years of age, some research disputes this. One study showed that a child’s (aged 7-12) microbiome was still different to an adult’s8. In this study, the composition and the functional qualities of the microbiome differed. These differences could be due to the extra energy and growth required for the childhood years.
Let’s look at some children’s probiotics, and also prebiotics which have been researched in babies and children.
There are many reasons why a child may suffer with regularity issues, such as a low fibre and/or high sugar diet, dehydration, medications, and stress/anxiety. The NHS states 3 or fewer bowel movements a week may mean your child has constipation9. Laxatives are usually the go-to option but can cause dependency if used long-term. A probiotic may be able to encourage regular bowel movements naturally in numerous ways, including the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) which stimulate peristalsis, without risk of dependency. If after a few days your child has still not had a bowel movement or often suffers with regularity issues, then always consult with your child’s doctor.
One of the most researched probiotic strains for constipation is Bifidobacterium lactis BB-12®. The strain has also been researched in children10. B. lactis BB-12® was used in one of the largest clinical trials ever conducted in probiotic research. In this gold standard trial, individuals who took B. lactis BB-12® had significantly more bowel movements per week11. It’s also been shown in other trials to harmonise bowel movements and not cause loose stools12. The strain Bacillus coagulans Unique-IS2 has also been shown to reduce constipation and straining in children29. Healthcare professionals can find out more about these strains on the Probiotics Database: see Bifidobacterium lactis BB-12® and Bacillus coagulans Unique-IS2.
Practitioners may also like to read Best Probiotics for Constipation on the Probiotic Professionals site.
Antibiotics do not always differentiate between good and bad bacteria, and as such, they can wipe out lots of friendly bacteria as well as bad bacteria. This can lead to a microbial imbalance13. When this happens, side effects like thrush, diarrhoea, constipation and low energy may occur. Taking a probiotic helps to support the microbiome during antibiotic treatment.
If your child needs to take antibiotics and is already taking a daily probiotic, you may wish to continue with this, just leaving at least a two-hour gap between the antibiotic and probiotic. If they are not already taking a probiotic supplement, or if it’s more convenient, then alongside the medication you could give them a specific probiotic designed to be taken with antibiotics. There is a unique combination of extensively researched probiotic strains, Lactobacillus acidophilus Rosell 52 and Lactobacillus rhamnosus Rosell 11, which won’t be affected by the action of the medicine. They can therefore be taken with breakfast daily, regardless of when antibiotics are taken, making them a very convenient option. Lactobacillus acidophilus Rosell 52 and Lactobacillus rhamnosus Rosell 11 have been shown to reduce antibiotic-associated diarrhoea when taken alongside a broad spectrum antibiotic14.
For more information on this topic, you can read Probiotics with Antibiotics
As previously mentioned, the immune system and microbiome go hand in hand. They are in constant communication with one another, with our microbes encouraging speedy immune responses15. The immune system is heavily challenged in school environments so needs all the support it can get!
A combination of three probiotic strains have been shown to reduce the risk of childhood illnesses as well as the time taken off school16. L. acidophilus Rosell 52, Bifidobacterium infantis Rosell 33 and Bifidobacterium bifidum Rosell 71 were the three strains used in this gold-standard study of 135 children. Also, the strain Bacillus coagulans Unique-IS2 has shown its ability to increase Natural Killer (NK) cells31. NK cells are an important component of our immune health as they are involved in fighting viral infections, and killing damaged cells. These strains are great options for kids.
Healthcare professionals can find more information on the research using the Rosell strains here, on Probiotic Professionals: Research on three Rosell probiotic strains.
It’s estimated 1 in 11 children suffer with asthma17. Asthmatics often have imbalanced immune responses exhibiting a more inflammatory profile. There is some preliminary evidence showing differences in the airway microbiome between healthy children and asthmatics18. These differences may even be a reason why asthmatics are more vulnerable to viral infections18. Some probiotics have been researched in asthmatics and shown to have beneficial effects, but the gut-lung axis is only just starting to be explored.
In addition to their benefits for immune health (see previous section), L. acidophilus Rosell 52, B. infantis Rosell 33, and B. bifidum Rosell 71 were shown in a clinical trial with 78 children to reduce wheezing-like symptoms. Symptoms were reduced after 3 months and disappeared after 6 months. This result was still maintained at 9 months19. Lactobacillus reuteri Protectis® has also been shown to significantly reduce bronchial airway inflammation in 43 asthmatic children20. There is also evidence for Bifidobacterium breve M-16V® in reducing the frequency of wheezing and noisy breathing in infants21. You can find more information here: Probiotic Potential for Asthma.
Allergies are a common childhood complaint. Children with allergies often exhibit a more inflammatory profile, dysbiosis and leaky gut22,23. Probiotics can help to support gut health and modulate immune function.
Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG® has been shown to increase antibodies (our immune system's 'frontline soldiers') in saliva, thus potentially improving immune responses in those with hay fever24. A similar gold standard study was conducted over the birch pollen season using a combination of Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM® and Bifidobacterium lactis Bl-04®. The strains were given to 47 children with hay fever. Generally, fewer children reported runny and stuffy noses, plus white blood cells associated with allergy were reduced in the probiotic group25.
You can read more about this subject here: Could probiotics help with allergies?
You can find more information about probiotics for eczema in part 4: Baby Probiotics.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional bowel disorder defined by the presence of recurrent episodes of abdominal pain associated with altered bowel habits. IBS is one of the most commonly encountered gastrointestinal (GI) problems and is said to now affect 12% of the total global population30, with its prevalence in children also increasing.
Much of the research into probiotics for IBS has focussed on the adult population, however, one particular strain shows excellent results in children specifically. 141 children were split into 2 groups and given either Bacillus coagulans Unique-IS2 or placebo for 8 weeks. The children were assessed for a variety of IBS symptoms, including abdominal discomfort, bloating and passage of gas. Significant improvement was seen across all symptoms in the probiotic group, as compared with those in the placebo group29.
The science: Kids with autism have a different microbial composition to non-autistic kids. They have higher levels of some harmful bacteria, and reduced Bifidobacteria, which is usually naturally present in a healthy child's gut26. They also have lower levels of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) which are produced when gut bacteria ferment fibres, especially prebiotics. SCFAs are essential for gut and all-round health. Gut issues such as constipation, diarrhoea and abdominal pain are very common in autistic children and can cause additional distress.
Probiotic: Research on specific probiotic strains is lacking for autism with inconsistent results. However, there is some promising research using prebiotics. One study using prebiotic galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) found a significant improvement in anti-social behaviour27. You could also consider a probiotic to support digestive symptoms. Saccharomyces boulardii is a well-known probiotic that has been extensively researched for loose stools in hundreds of children, making it a nice, natural option to try. Persistent symptoms should always be discussed with your child’s doctor.
Now we’ve gone through the potential benefits and looked at some of the best probiotics for children, let’s look at some easy ways you could incorporate prebiotics and probiotics into your kids' diets.
We know this can be a challenge, especially for some fussier kids. But fear not, there are lots of ways kids can take their probiotic supplement– read our fun article for some inspiration: How to Get Kids to Take Probiotics. Just remember - if you’re adding a probiotic to any type of food or drink, make sure it’s not too hot or acidic or you’ll risk killing those friendly little microbes.
That’s right, you can give your kid an easy liquid probiotic! Simply drop the recommended number of drops per day right into your child’s mouth, or mix it with food or drink. This children’s probiotic is a particularly useful format for very young children.
OptiBac ‘For your baby’ contains an extensively researched strain of probiotic for babies. This probiotic supplement comes in an easy to use liquid drops format.
Many probiotics come in a powder or sachet format. This can be particularly useful as children don’t like to swallow capsules. The powder can be easily hidden in their favourite foods or drinks, e.g. in their breakfast cereal or yoghurt.
OptiBac ‘For babies & children’ powder contains three strains, L. acidophilus Rosell 52, B. infantis Rosell 33 and B. bifidum Rosell 71, which have been extensively researched in children. This probiotic powder comes in handy sachets – the powder can be sprinkled onto any cool, non-acidic breakfast food.
Older children may prefer to take their probiotics as a chewy, naturally flavoured ‘gummy’ - be sure to choose well-researched, high-quality options with no artificial additives.
OptiBac ‘Kids Gummies’ are gluten-free, vegan, free from artificial additives and have no added sugar. They come in a delicious strawberry flavour, and are made using natural fruit juices. This delicious children’s probiotic contains the highly-researched strain of friendly bacteria, Bacillus coagulans Unique-IS2, which has been researched in hundreds of children.
Some fermented foods naturally contain good bacteria. This can be a good way to boost the diversity in your child’s microbiome. The only downside is many of these foods, such as kefir, kimchee and sauerkraut, have strong tastes and may not be very child-friendly (even the most adventurous eater might turn their nose up at these!). If you're interested, then take a look at some of our favourite fermented foods.
Probiotic yoghurts from the supermarkets can be a popular choice. However, these yoghurts and yoghurt drinks can be very high in sugar, or contain artificial sweeteners which may have negative effects on the gut microbiome28. Consider finding a well-researched probiotic supplement and adding it to yoghurt.
It’s worth noting that there are dairy-free probiotics available. If you are looking for a children’s probiotic for a child that has dairy allergies or is vegan, have a look at the packaging to check for allergens and ingredients, or reach out to the brand to ask.
If you’ve read this far, you’ll now be well-informed and hopefully convinced about the potential benefits of giving probiotic supplements to your children. But when it comes to your kids, of course you want to know that the supplements you’re giving them are safe. We’re always told that bacteria are bad and can cause infection, but it’s important to understand that not only are some bacteria ‘good’, but our bodies also couldn’t work optimally without them!
Probiotic bacteria have been extensively researched, especially those available in supplement form. It's best to use strains that have been extensively researched in children but in general, children’s probiotics are very safe supplements and suitable for most people from infancy.
The only time you'd need to exercise caution when giving your child probiotics is if they have a serious illness and/or a compromised immune system. In this case, you should always speak to your child's doctor before giving any natural supplements. For more information read the following articles:
This article has hopefully given you lots of advice on choosing the best probiotic for your child. It can be tough but aim for a probiotic supplement that has been researched in kids and supports your child’s individual health needs.
Wishing your children a healthy and happy future!
This article forms part 5 in our educational resource, ‘Early life microbiome series’, where we take you on a journey through the development and support of the microbiome from conception through to young adulthood. The other articles in this series are:
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