From dirt to probiotics

The most common question I get in my clinic is about which probiotics should be used in children. The answer I give unfortunately can be quite disappointing for some parents because my answer is usually quite vague, unless I know specific research exists related to a specific strain of probiotic and a specific diagnosis.

The gut has millions of bacteria and these are made up of different strains and to make it even more complex, although there is some overlap in bacterial flora in children, the gut microbiota of the individual is quite unique to every child related to whether they were born via C-section/vaginal birth, breast fed or bottle fed, weaning diet and also the environment. So suggesting one strain or even multiple strains for an individual child can be difficult as the microbiota is so specific to an individual. What I can certainly reassure parents is that outside of specific conditions (i.e when a child is immunocompromised for example with cancer) probiotics are fine to use and not harmful, so you will not do any harm if you were to try. We know that a breastfed child will have a flora that is more dominant in bifidobacteria and that this changes with the introduction of solids to more lactobacillus. This of course is a very simplistic explanation as you have lots of other strains that develop.

The message that I wanted to get out with this blog post is that you can do a lot of positive with your baby’s gut microbiota with breast feeding (best option) and some formula now also contain prebiotics (food for the good bacteria) and also when solids are introduced to expand the variety to lots of fruit, vegetables and grains, which provide food for bacteria and promote a healthy balance of gut microbiota. In addition to this, is the importance of home-cooked foods, which have also been shown to help with the microbiota, as home-cooked food is not sterile and contains some bacteria, that also helps the microbiota.

I think many of you have heard of the the excessive hygienic conditions we live in, being blamed for the development of allergies. So allowing your child to crawl on a floor, pick things up and put in their mouth (within reason of course) and explore is an important step to helping the gut microbiota develop and improve the immune system. So before you look at a probiotic, think about all the things that you can do at home already that promote not only 1 or 5 bacterial strains in the gut, but millions of strains. If you still then want to try a probiotic for a specific situation, do discuss this with your healthcare professional as there are some strains that have shown to be beneficial for specific symptoms/diagnoses.

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