Probiotics are simply living microorganisms. In general, when speaking about probiotics, we talk about healthy gut flora. The most common ways we consume probiotics are through diet and supplementation. There’s been a lot of recent research into this topic that shows that probiotics have three key benefits for children:

1.Improved Digestion — Most of us are familiar with the use of probiotics in adults for improved digestion, but this is also true for children. Research has indicated that probiotic use promotes digestive regularity and improves diarrhea, constipation, and gas. Diarrhea and constipation are pretty common during potty training and can make the process more difficult, so probiotic supplementation may be useful during this time period. It’s important to keep in mind that the jury is still out on long term probiotic supplementation for digestive issues since these studies looked at shorter term probiotic use.

2.Mental Health Support — Did you know that scientists consider the gut to be the “second brain”? The majority of our neurotransmitters are created in the gut. New studies are linking a well-balanced intestinal microbiome to healthier neurotransmitter production. So this means that children diagnosed with ASD, OCD (common in PANS/PANDAS), anxiety, and depression can really benefit from having the appropriate balance of gut flora. Oftentimes, treating imbalances can lead to reduced symptoms and breakthroughs in other areas of the child’s treatment protocol — such as ABA or neurofeedback.

3.Immune Boost — Because probiotics provide a super dose of healthy bacteria, they can naturally “choke out” bad bacteria and promote an optimal balance of good and comensal bacteria. This optimal balance seems to have a protective effect on the immune system. Probiotic use has been shown to decrease the risk of secondary infections during antibiotic use. (Remember…broad spectrum antibiotics can kill off good bacteria and disrupt the balance of gut flora.) In addition, healthy gut flora has been linked to a decrease in the immune response in kids with food sensitivities and seasonal allergies. This means less severe eczema, hay fever, and concentration problems.

Healthy gut flora in children can be cultivated in a number of ways — through a vaginal delivery, through breastmilk, and through diet. Most children, especially those who who were born vaginally and who breastfed, can build and maintain healthy gut flora through eating probiotic-rich foods. However, there may be instances where a short or long term therapeutic dosage of a probiotic supplement may be warranted. For example, I often recommend that my clients supplement with a probiotic during a course of antibiotics; when we start working together to address digestive disorders or allergies; if an infant had a Cesarean birth and/or is not being breastfed; or if they’ve been diagnosed with ASD, anxiety, and depression.

It can be very helpful to work together with a healthcare practitioner to determine what probiotic-rich foods you feel comfortable feeding or what probiotic supplement is the best for your little one. In general, what I like to look for in a probiotic supplement are several different strains of healthy bacteria, at least 1 billion CFU (colony forming units), and a GMP compliant manufacturer.

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The views expressed in this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any condition and should not be substituted for medical advice.