Probiotics

So what are probiotics and can be they be used and help my child? The answer is potentially yes, adding probiotics to a child’s diet may be beneficial in the management of at least two common medical conditions: recovery from viral diarrhea and in the prevention of antibiotic caused diarrhea. These findings were recently published in an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) report that reviewed the current scientific knowledge of the usage and benefit of probiotics.

Probiotics are commercial products that can be purchased as either separate supplements or as a food product (additive) that contain large concentrations of normal or healthy intestinal bacteria that is necessary for normal digestion. GI illnesses or antibiotics used to treat other bacterial illnesses can disrupt the natural composition of these digestive bacteria and can either prolong or cause secondary GI complications on their own account. The AAP report which reviewed the current medical literature found benefit in the treatment of acute viral gastroenteritis with probiotics. The overall course was lessened , but not cured, if probiotics were given at the onset of the illness. Similarly, starting a probiotic when instituting antibiotic treatment reduced the risk of developing antibiotic associated diarrhea. Unfortunately, there is insufficient data currently to support long term usage of probiotics in the treatment of other GI illnesses such as Crohn’s disease, IBS or constipation or in the treatment or prevention of cancer or allergies but active research is ongoing in all these areas.

It’s important to emphasize that human breast milk is a natural probiotic but the addition of probiotics to infant formulas has not been found to be either harmful or beneficial.

Safety of these products (which are commercial and not prescription) requires ongoing study but the AAP stated that “to date, these products seem to be safe for healthy infants and children”. Probiotics should not be given to children who are seriously ill or have other chronic, serious medical conditions.

A wide range of probiotics are available commercially. The relative benefit of the product depends both on the dozing (the composition of the bacteria in the product) and the timing of starting treatment. As these products are relatively new, many health professionals are on the “learning curve” regarding how to advise patients and families about the proper timing and administration of probiotic products but at this time there appears to be at least sufficient evidence to consider their usage for certain circumstances in a healthy child.

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