How the Science Stacks Up
Because most foods do not contain nearly enough probiotic CFUs to be considered "therapeutic," you'll most likely need probiotic supplements to find higher doses and target specific problems. They come in all kinds of forms, including drops, chewable tablets, and even special straws that are coated with probiotics. But you should talk to your pediatrician first, stresses Dan W. Thomas, M.D., head of the gastroenterology department at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, who is also a coauthor of the pending AAP report on probiotics. If your doctor approves, try offering probiotic supplements to your child when he comes down with any of the following ailments. (Some experts are skeptical about the effectiveness of using probiotics to reduce runny noses and coughs, which is why you won't find cold and flu symptoms discussed here.)
Colic: A study published in Pediatrics in 2007 found that colicky infants who took Lactobacillus reuteri Protectis, the strain found in BioGaia probiotic drops, saw results within one week. On the fourth week, the babies were crying for only 51 minutes a day, compared with 145 minutes for the infants who were given simethicone, the active ingredient in many OTC anti-gas products. "These results were startling, and we need more research," says Dr. Merenstein.
Diarrhea: "Probiotics can't make tummy troubles go away, but it's possible that they may reduce diarrhea by one day and make the symptoms less severe," explains Dr. Thomas. The probiotic group Lactobacillus was found to be safe and effective in treating infectious diarrhea in children, according to a study in Pediatrics. The strains Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (aka LGG) and Saccharomyces boulardi have both been successful in treating antibiotic-associated diarrhea, found a 2007 review of ten randomized controlled trials. You'll find these strains in therapeutic doses in over-the-counter supplements like Culturelle for Kids and Florastor Kid. Both come in packet-size servings that you can mix into your child's cold foods or drinks.
Intestinal problems: Ask your pediatrician about probiotics if your child has a chronic condition like irritable bowel syndrome or an inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease. Several studies have shown that the probiotic strains found in the supplements VSL#3 and Align (both in capsule form) may reduce the severity of kids' abdominal pain, bloating, cramping, gas, and/or diarrhea. And new research from Italy found that constipated babies who were given L. reuteri had more frequent bowel movements after two weeks than those who were given a placebo.
Eczema: "Studies have shown that probiotics can be helpful with eczema flare-ups triggered by milk allergies," explains Alan Greene, M.D., a clinical professor of pediatrics at the Stanford University School of Medicine. In an ongoing Finnish study published in The Lancet, infants whose family members had a history of eczema or allergies were either given LGG prenatally (in other words, the mothers took probiotics while they were pregnant) and until they were 6 months old, or they were given a placebo. Researchers found that the children who took the LGG were half as likely to have developed eczema than those who took the placebo. (LGG is the probiotic strain found in Culturelle products.)
he bottom line: Probiotics are considered safe for healthy children. And while more research is needed before doctors can begin prescribing probiotics for specific childhood illnesses (as they do with antibiotics), it's certainly worth discussing the idea with your pediatrician.