What are Probiotics?

All healthy and well-functioning digestive systems have a normal amount of "good" bacteria to help digest food properly. Other names for bacteria found in the digestive tract are "microflora," "microorganisms" or "intestinal flora." When food is properly digested, there is good absorption of nutrients and proper, efficient elimination of waste. It is important to maintain this delicate balance of the "good" and "bad" bacteria as well as other intricate factors like digestion time and transit time through the gut. As our diets change, the right balance of this "good" bacteria can be affected and lead to problems with digestion such as constipation and indigestion. As a result, the digestive system would need a "tune-up." The best ways to achieve this "tune-up" or prevent the need for them are to consume leafy vegetables and fruits, increase fiber in one’s diet and consume an adequate amount of water and fluids to keep the body properly hydrated. In the past few years, probiotics have become increasingly popular to improve digestive health.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Policy Statement on probiotics, a probiotic is an oral supplement or a food product that contains a sufficient number of viable microorganisms to alter the microflora of the digestive tract and has the potential for beneficial health effects. This means that by consuming supplements that contain probiotics in addition to a well-balanced healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fiber and proper hydration, one can achieve optimal digestion. This leads to better nutrition and nourishment and less digestive problems like constipation and indigestion. Studies on the benefits in children are still being done, but some have found a favorable use for certain strains in children, such as maintaining regular bowel movements, helping to shorten the duration of diarrhea associated with the taking of antibiotics or an acute illness (but not preventing or curing these conditions). As always, it is best to discuss the use of probiotics with your pediatrician before giving these supplements to your child.