Probiotics: What are they and Why are they Important?

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Probiotics is the term for food and supplements that contain microorganisms that can colonize the gut, specifically the small and large intestines. We actually have billions of bacteria living in our gastrointestinal tract. We now know that these bacteria have important roles in the body. They are involved in digestion, prevent infection by other disease-causing bacteria, and maintain the lining of the digestive tract. These bacteria can be killed off by antibiotics, and up to 30% of people taking antibiotics experience the side-effect known as antibiotic-associated diarrhea (1). Some research has shown benefits to ingesting probiotics during and after a course of antibiotics to prevent diarrhea, to prevent pathogenic bacteria such a Clostridium difficile (C. diff) from inhabiting the gut and causing illness, and to maintain the lining of the gut. It is especially important for infants and children to have healthy gut bacteria, as they can be particularly susceptible to these side effects. It is also important that infants and children have a strong gut barrier as they constantly put things in their mouths and are still developing their gut-associated immune system. 70% of the human body’s immune system actually lines the gastrointestinal tract, and probiotics can help develop that.

The World Health Organization defines probiotics as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host” (2). The supplement industry, which includes probiotics supplements, is not tightly regulated in the United States. Therefore, it is wise to ask a doctor or registered dietitian for recommendations of brands of probiotics if you or your child needs to take them in supplement form.

Probiotics are found naturally occurring in fermented foods such as:

  • Yogurt
  • Sour cream
  • Acidophilus Milk
  • Kefir
  • Tempeh
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi

Including some of these foods in you and your child’s weekly diet can help ensure healthy gut bacteria and optimal digestion. For more information on probiotics in foods or supplements, and when to use probiotics, contact a dietitian at North Shore Pediatric Therapy.

References

  1. Mack DR. Probiotics. Can Fam Physician. 2005 November 10; 51(11): 1455–1457.
  2. Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization Expert Consultation. Evaluation of health and nutritional properties of powder milk and live lactic acid bacteria. Córdoba, Argentina: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and World Health Organization; 2001. [cited 2005 September 8]. Available from: ftp://ftp.fao.org/es/esn/food/probio_report_en.pdf.

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Stephanie Wells

Stephanie Wells, is a Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist. Stephanie comes from Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma Washington, where she worked with babies and children with many nutritional and diet needs. Stephanie is excited to bring her experience and expertise to North Shore Pediatric Therapy, and is looking forward to helping as many kids as she can.

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