Children & Probiotics
Why the ‘good bugs’ in your child’s digestive tract
are essential to their wellbeing
by Renae Trivic
The digestive tract houses a collection of microbes in excess of 1000 species. In a symbiotic relationship, they collectively function as a major part of your immune system.
The development of the microflora colony in the digestive tract begins when we are born – during the birthing process in fact – and the colony continues to develop until the ages of 2-4 when it becomes more stable, like an adult’s microflora.
Interestingly, scientists have recently discovered that the microflora colony changes during pregnancy in preparation of transferring more beneficial bacteria strains to the infant during the birthing process, to begin colonising their digestive tract.
Factors that affect the normal development and maintenance of a balanced microflora colony include:
- Caesarian birth
- Antibiotic use
- Neonate nutrition (breast fed/formula fed)
- Adult diet (western, high carbohydrate based)
- Degree of hygiene
- Bacterial infections
‘An imbalance of the microflora in your digestive tract is known as dysbiosis.’
The Immune System & Probiotics
Probiotic supplementation has been found to have widespread action on infant development and health.
One beneficial bacteria genus which is often part of an infants/children’s probiotic supplement is Bifidobacteria. Bifidobacteria has been well researched in children’s health due to it being one of the predominant bacteria colonising in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) of healthy infants.
In one study1, the Bifidobacteria lactis probiotic supplement was added into milk and given to children ages 1-4. The findings showed a:
- 21% reduction in Gastroenteritis;
- 24% reduction in Pneumonia;
- 35% reduction in severe acute respiratory infection;
- 5 % reduction in fever; and,
- 16% reduction in number of days away from school due to illness.
Other probiotic benefits in children include:
- A reduction in the risk of anti-biotic induced diarrhoea
- Treatment and protection against infectious diarrhoea (including rotavirus)
- Management of eczema
- Strengthened immunity and resistance to infection
As a Naturopath, I recommend that all infants and children take an age-specific probiotic, preferably one from a prescribed practitioner-only range. This is to ensure the strains in the probiotic are at an effective, well-researched dosage to ensure its therapeutic efficacy. A probiotic given to an infant under 3 months should differ to that of a child older than 3 months, due to researched difference in the microflora between these stages and suitability of the bacteria strains to the developing GIT.
If you would like more information regarding the right probiotic for your infant or child’s health, including the use of probiotics for management of certain health conditions, seek information from your Naturopath, Osteopath or other health professional.
1Dominguez-Bello et al 2011, ‘Development of the Human Gastrointestinal Microbiota and Insights From High-Throughput Sequencing’, Gastroenterology, vol. 140, pp. 1713-1719, (electronic Pubmed central)