We are increasingly recommending probiotic supplements for children, with or without conditions that would mandate their use. Probiotics are good bacteria, which counteract the damage caused by pathogenic bacteria that invade and dominate gut flora.

The main probiotics are lactobacillus, of which numerous types are available, and bifidophilus.

The obvious medical conditions requiring probiotic use are antibiotic therapy, which leads to suppression of beneficial bacteria, bowel infections with pathogenic organisms including certain types of E coli, yeast, yersinia, salmonella or shigella, or campylobacter, and inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s.

There are, however, other reasons to benefit: 141 children, average age of 6.4 years, with irritable bowel syndrome, were randomly divided to receive lactobacillus rhamnosus or placebo. After 12 weeks of treatment, there was a 50% or greater pain reduction in 72% of those taking the probiotic, vs. only 53% of those taking placebo. Intestinal permeability also improved significantly in the probiotic group compared with the group receiving placebo. This would lead to a reduced absorption of toxic molecules through the gut wall, which can cause systemic inflammation..

In another study, colic pains in infants were diminished by feeding them probiotics.

It would make sense, then, and offer virtually no chance of bad effects, to feed probiotics to children beginning at the time of birth and continuing through childhood. The newborn child acquires its first colonization of gut bacteria by passing through the mother’s birth canal. Children born by Caesarian section are thus most in need of probiotic supplements. Preparations are available to be applied to the nipple before nursing, or to a fingertip for sucking.

Allan Sosin MD

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