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Probiotics for toddlers

Probiotics for toddlers

Most of us understand that there are 'bad' bacteria and 'good' bacteria. The bad bacteria are the ones that can make little ones sick with tummy bugs or throat infections. The good bacteria, more accurately described as 'probiotics', are essential for the healthy functioning of growing bodies.

What are probiotics?

"Probiotics are the 'friendly' bacteria that normally live in our intestines," explains Dr Susan Prescott, an internationally renowned specialist in childhood allergy and immunology and author ofThe Allergy Epidemic. "As babies, they are very important for the normal development of our gut, our immune systems and even our metabolism. They help defend us from infections by harmful bacteria, and even help control our patterns of weight gain."

Where do probiotics come from?

Probiotics are present in breastmilk and quickly enter the baby's intestines after birth. Also present in breastmilk are 'prebiotics, a form of soluble dietary fibre that promotes the growth of probiotics. The way to keep up a healthy population of probiotics once breastfeeding has finished is to establish a healthy, balanced diet, says Dr Prescott.

"Ultimately, that is better than using supplements," she says. "And you should include a healthy amount of dietary fibre, too, because that will naturally promote the growth of friendly probiotic bacteria."

What about probiotic supplements?

In a perfect world, a well-rounded diet would ensure that your toddler has plenty of probiotics. However, if your family diet has veered off course, or if your little one's natural probiotic population has taken a beating from a course of antibiotics (which kill 'good' bacteria just as readily as the 'bad' bacteria causing an illness), you may want to bump up the probiotic intake.

"Some fermented foods, such as yoghurts, contain live probiotics cultures," says Dr Prescott. "However the amounts of live probiotics bacteria vary widely between products."

Probiotic supplements are quite safe for toddlers although you should speak to a pharmacist or doctor for advice on exactly which product to use. The issue is that there are many different strains of probiotics and, says Dr Prescott, the health effects vary according to the strain.

What will probiotics do for my toddler?

The pattern of bacteria in the body varies according to the environment and, as Dr Prescott explains, there is some evidence that 'cleaner' modern environments are changing the natural probiotic balance, which could possibly be a factor in the rising rates of allergic diseases.

There is also some evidence that probiotics can help with the diarrhoea that comes along with an acute bout of gastro, or sometimes follows a course of antibiotics.

"A course of probiotics during or after a course of antibiotics may help restore the natural balance of bacteria in the intestinal tract and is unlikely to cause significant side effects," says Dr Prescott, adding that further studies are needed to determine the best bacteria strain, dose and duration for such a treatment.

A number of studies also suggest that taking probiotics early in life may help to prevent the onset of eczema, and may help to alleviate the symptoms of established eczema.

 

The Allergy Epidemicby Dr Susan Prescott is published by UWA Publishing. All author's proceeds go directly to allergy research. (http://uwap.uwa.edu.au)

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