Updated: Sep 9, 2021
So many health fads, and just as many questions about their effectiveness.
I am all about natural health and wellness. However, I am also kind of a skeptic.
I tend to employ more of a "skeptic until proven effective" point-of-view.
Years ago, I dug into the research on probiotics for kids hoping to find a solution for my daughter's eczema. Spoiler alert. Probiotics can't treat eczema.
During my dig, however, I found some research that convinced me to begin giving a daily probiotic to my kids!
Whether you want to understand the benefits of probiotics for kids, are considering adding a daily probiotic for your child's overall health, or are searching for the best kids probiotics for certain ailments, you're in the right spot.
Please Note: This article contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I will receive a small commission on the sale of items linked to Amazon. However, the price is the same for you. I am not personally affiliated with any of the brands I recommend. I only promote products that I love and believe you will love. Thank you for supporting my small business.
Also Note: My intent with this information is absolutely not to provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. I urge you to speak with your child's pediatrician or a trusted health care professional before starting any supplements for your child. I do believe that knowledge is power, and parent resources like these can help you prepare for your visit with your child's pediatrician to discuss health care concerns.
What Are Probiotics?
Nerd alert. When I am trying to understand something scientific, I like real scientific information.
The good news for you, I have reviewed the research, you get enjoy the summary.
Here we go.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are defined by the World Health Organization as “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”.
Simple enough. Take away for me is that they must be given in an amount that creates a health benefit.
A little history.
The concept of probiotics is relatively new.
In the early 1900s, a French pediatrician noticed that children with diarrhea had a low number of Y-shaped bacteria in their stools. These y-shaped bacteria were, however, abundant in healthy children. He suggested that these bacteria could be administered to patients with diarrhea to help restore a healthy gut bacteria.
The first actual observation of the positive role played by some bacteria came in 1907, when a Russian Nobel Prize winner (Ellie Metchnikoff) suggested that, because the bacteria in our gut depend on food, we may be able to change what we eat in order to get rid of harmful bacteria and replace them with healthy bacteria. (4)
What Are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics (like fiber!) have essentially the same aim as probiotics, which is to improve host health by controlling the gut bacteria by helping probiotics and healthy bacteria grow.
It is thought that by combining some probiotics and prebiotics, they work together, thus making them even more impactful. (4)
Do Probiotics Provide Health Benefits for Kids?
After almost an entire century filled with mostly mixed scientific reviews and anecdotal evidence, it wasn't until about 1980 that scientists were able to show health benefits of probiotics.
Although we have studies showing health benefits of probiotics, they have not been reproduced successfully using rigorous clinical trials.
Where does that leave us?
We still have a long way to go when it comes to understanding exactly what probiotics are beneficial, who and what they benefit, and how to achieve the benefit.
Benefits Of Probiotics For Kids
My goal is to provide you with evidence-based information.
As mentioned above, studies showing health benefits of probiotics have not been reproduced successfully using rigorous clinical trials.
Does this mean probiotics aren't beneficial to health? No.
Increasing evidence suggests that we are on to something.
However, there are still factors that we do not understand. Therefore, in most situations, it is not possible for health care professionals to make strong, evidence based recommendations on use of probiotics.
However, I am going to share with you some findings that we do have. I think you may find it helpful.
A quick summary of possible benefits of probiotics for kids
prevent eczema in children at risk for allergic conditions (eczema, asthma, seasonal allergies), including possible long term prevention
prevent and shorten length of common cold and ear infections
prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea in children when taken with antibiotics
reduce diarrhea in children with gastroenteritis
reduce crying time in babies with colic
reduce pain in children with IBS
Eczema and Probiotics
Let's get the bad news out of the way. Unfortunately, probiotics are not a solution for treating eczema (2).
However, use of probiotics may be an effective method to prevent eczema in children at risk for allergic conditions (eczema, asthma, seasonal allergies), including possible long term prevention. (5)
Check it out.
Background: Eczema and Probiotics
The intestinal bacteria of children with allergic conditions (eczema, asthma, seasonal allergies) is different than that of children without allergic conditions.
Because of this, it has been thought that giving probiotics to children at risk of developing allergic conditions could potentially be beneficial.
In a double-blinded randomized controlled trial (the gold standard for scientific research), a probiotic called lactobacillus rhamnosus or a placebo was given to women during the final 4 weeks of pregnancy. If the infant was at high risk of allergic conditions, the treatment was continued for 6 months after birth in both the lactating woman and her infant.
Eczema was diagnosed in 35% of all children in the study by 2 years of age. Of those who received the placebo, 46% developed eczema, versus 23% who received the probiotic. By 4 years of age, the results remained about the same (46% of children in placebo group had eczema vs 26% in group treated with probiotics)
The number of mother-infant pairs required to be treated with the probiotics to prevent 1 case of chronic recurrent eczema was 4.5. An interesting way to think about it.
These results support a preventive effect for giving a probiotic to mothers late in pregnancy and to both mothers and infants during the first 6 months of lactation for the prevention of eczema in infants who are at risk of allergic conditions.
Seems like great news, right?
Despite the encouraging results of studies like these, other studies have not shown the same protective benefits.
Therefore, there is insufficient evidence to warrant the routine supplementation of probiotics to either pregnant women or infants to prevent allergic diseases in childhood.
Why do some studies show protective benefits and others don't?
It is thought that mother/child's genetic susceptibility, environmental factors such as geographic region and diet, and study variables including probiotic strains and doses used all play a factor in the variable results. (6)
Recommendations: Probiotic and Eczema
There is likely benefit from using probiotics for the prevention of eczema when probiotics are taken by:
pregnant women at high risk for having an allergic child
by women who breastfeed infants at high risk of developing allergy
by infants at high risk of developing allergy
These recommendations by the World Allergy Organization only apply to these specific scenarios and supported by very low quality evidence. (3)
Best Probiotics for Preventing Eczema in Kids
Check out Best Probiotics for Kids for recommendations on which probiotics to buy to prevent eczema in kids.
Common Cold and Ear Infections and Probiotics
Kids gets colds. A lot. When you are friends with a bunch of snotty nosed kids and are constantly putting your hands in your mouth, you have the recipe for non-stop coughs and runny noses.
We know washing hands can help prevent spreading germs.
However, probiotics may provide another way to prevent the never ending runny noses that kiddos seem to have.
And, get this. Probiotics may also help to shorten the common cold!
Check it out.
Background: Upper Respiratory Infections and Probiotics
In 2013, researchers reviewed the data from 4 randomized controlled trials (these are high quality scientific research studies). They found that, in children treated with probiotics containing lactobacillus rhamnousus:
the incidence of ear infections was reduced by 24%, and
the risk of upper respiratory tract infections (URIs) was reduced by 38%.
What does this mean? If 4 children take probiotics, 1 will be spared an actual upper respiratory tract infection. (7)
In 2016, a HUGE review of 23 randomized controlled trials involving 6269 children showed similar results. (1)
Want more great news?
In 2014, researchers reviewed the data on duration of illness (how long the cold lasts) from 20 randomized controlled trials, half of them focused just on children. They found that participants who took a probiotic were sick for about 18 hours less than those who did not take probiotics. (7)
Some not as great news?
Despite the encouraging results of studies like these, other studies have shown mixed results. Researchers have noted, however, that despite mixed results, at least one beneficial effect of probiotics on upper respiratory infections was observed in the majority of studies. (7)