If you could find a way to help cut down on the number of colds your child has, prevent your baby from getting eczema, ease the symptoms of colic, and help prevent or treat diarrhea and other intestinal ailments, would you give it to your child? Well, the good news is, probiotics may do all that and more when used as a supplement for children. A number of physicians and researchers have weighed in on the subject, including the head of the gastroenterology department at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Dan W. Thomas, M.D., who is the coauthor of American Association of Pediatrics report on probiotics and kids. He recommends checking with your child’s doctor before administering probiotics, but it is important to note that many doctors may be poorly informed about probiotics. Some of Dr. Thomas’ research will appear later in our discussion.
The Common Ones: Colds and Respiratory Infections
It seems it always happens with kids: they play with other kids and come back with the sniffles. Running noses are just not pretty, neither do they feel good, so most parents would be glad to find a way to spare their child the misery. In a September 2011 Cochrane Review, various studies and research projects were evaluated to determine the effectiveness of probiotics on boosting immunity. The Review grudgingly admitted that there may be a link between taking probiotics and helping to prevent the common cold in babies and children. However, a report in the August 2009 Pediatrics was much more encouraging: in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, those taking the probiotics had significantly reduced symptoms of things like coughs, runny nose, and fevers. This is great news for parents looking for positive ways to keep their kids healthy during the cold months of winter when noses seem especially prone to run.
When it comes to research on probiotics and children’s eczema, New Zealand is a surprising leader. Dr. Kristin Wickens led a project involving extensive research on probiotics and their role in preventing eczema. Mothers with a high allergy history were placed on either probiotics or a placebo in the final trimester of pregnancy, then the infants were given the treatment after birth. 40% of the placebo group had significant eczema, while only 20% of those in the probiotic group suffered from similar symptoms. This benefit is thought to be due to higher levels of Th1 cytokines in the mother’s milk and cord blood. These cytokines help to protect the body against allergies, thought to be a key factor in infant eczema.
If you have ever tried to sooth a colicky baby, you understand the feeling of being desperate for something to help the poor child and bring some relief for everyone. Well, it is in the area of colic that probiotics really shine for children. A study from Italy was reported on parenting.com. In this study babies were given either L. reuteri (a particular probiotic strain), or a common over-the-counter gas medicine. The results were spectacular: 90% of the probiotic group saw significantly fewer colic symptoms in a week’s time, while only 7% of the babies on the other substance saw improvement. Know a parent with a colicky baby? Pass o some probiotics, and they will probably be thanking you later! Another study, published in Pediatrics (February, 2013), revealed that colicky babies appear to develop certain good bacteria in their intestinal tract later than other babies. Dr. Weerth, a partner in this study, suggests that probiotic supplementation can help to alleviate colic symptoms.
Nothing interrupts a healthy child’s play more than frequent trips to the bathroom with a bout of diarrhea. Acute diarrhea is never fun, but it is one area that many doctors actually agree about in regard to probiotics. Dr. Athos Bousvaros at the Children’s Hospital Boston, suggests that the use of probiotics in a case of acute diarrhea can reduce the duration of the sickness. He also says that probiotics are also effective to help prevent C. difficile, a common, hospital-borne illness.
Benefits vs. Side Effects
So, what does it all boil down to? Should your children take probiotics or not? Let’s take some things into consideration. First of all, most sources state that probiotics are not harmful to children. There are some areas of concern, mainly with premature babies, children whose immune systems are impaired, or those with medical devices in them. Otherwise, probiotics are generally considered safe. Second, although there may not be enough evidence for probiotics to convince the most skeptical physicians, growing medical research increasingly points to the efficacy of probiotics to help support the health of children. With minimal risk and great potential for benefits, it seems that raw probiotics are a smart choice for smart parents.
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