A young friend just called to ask me which probiotic she should take. She was going through a health crisis and had been prescribed heavy duty antibiotics. One doctor told her to take probiotics and another told her not to bother. Parents often experience a similar dilemma. Some pediatricians are pro and others are con. Which one is right? The fact is that there’s no simple answer.
The word “probiotic” refers to living friendly bacteria. Probiotics occurring in natural foods such as yogurt or sauerkraut have been used for hundreds of years. In certain parts of Japan, for example, both adults and children eat Natto, which consists of soybeans fermented by a friendly soil bacteria called bacillus subtilis.
Many studies show that probiotics have beneficial effects on a wide variety of kids’ digestive problems, but there are also studies, which show that a specific probiotic (strain of a bacteria) may not be effective for a particular condition. A review study published in 2017 showed that probiotics are effective for the following conditions: irritable bowel syndrome, functional gastrointestinal disorders, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, acute infectious diarrhea, Clostridium difficile–associated diarrhea, hepatic encephalopathy, ulcerative colitis, and necrotizing enterocolitis. Two papers published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, however, show that two particular probiotic supplements containing L. rhamnosus GG or L. rhamnosus R0011/L. helveticus R0052 are of no benefit for children with acute gastroenteritis in North America.
What are we supposed to make of the opposing views? Only that science takes a long time to get something right, especially in a complex situation involving hundreds of different gut bacteria. Every probiotic must be tested on every disease and “new” probiotics are being discovered all the time. To make matters worse, the probiotic industry is making huge amounts of money right now and is virtually unregulated.
The biggest problem in evaluating the current clinical effectiveness of probiotics is the lack of consistency in the design of research studies. Many studies use different types of probiotics and in different amounts. The situation is further confused by the fact that our gut bacteria live in a complex ecological system affected by many factors such as the food we eat, the time of year, the drugs we take, and the toxins in our environment.
What Every Parent Should Know:
- Don’t believe every blog or advertisement you read about a probiotic.
- If someone cites scientific research to sell their probiotic, remember that there may be other newer studies that show different results. Always check the date of the blog or post.
- Each person, each child, is different. For some, an inexpensive probiotic can work wonders. For another, the same probiotic might not work at all.
- Probiotics contain different types of friendly bacteria, different quantities, and different means of delivery, like a specific coating.
- No one knows how combinations of probiotics interact with each other. Do they help or do they compete with each other?
- Some firms advertise that their refrigerated probiotic is better but there is no conclusive evidence that this or any other claim is true.
- For a rating of different probiotics, check out our chart for kids and our chart for adults at docgut.com. If you visit another site, make sure that they don’t have a vested interested in selling certain brands.
- Take advantage of foods used for centuries by traditional systems of medicine, which provide probiotics naturally.
- Probiotics are generally considered safe and beneficial for both children and adults.
- Until larger and more comprehensive studies are done, trial and error seems to be the only way to determine which probiotic is best for you and your child.
My wife Samantha is very sensitive to probiotics. She has tried numerous different brands, and through trial and error has determined which one is the most effective for her. Both of us have noticed that diet is most important factor in determining how our gut feels and research shows that diet can change the composition of your gut bacteria in a matter of days. Take a look at our new book The Rest And Repair Diet for advice on diet and probiotics, along with a simple step-by-step program to heal your gut, improve your physical and mental health, and lose weight.
- Wilkins, T et al., Probiotics for Gastrointestinal Conditions: A Summary of Evidence. American Family Physician Aug 2017; 96:3,170-178
- Newlove-Delgado T1, Abbott RA2, Martin AE3. Probiotics for Children With Recurrent Abdominal Pain. JAMA Pediatr. 2018 Dec 28. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.4575. [Epub ahead of print]
- Schnadower, D et al., Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG versus Placebo for Acute Gastroenteritis in Children. N Engl J Med 2018; 379:2002-2014 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1802598Freedman, SB et al., Multicenter Trial of a Combination Probiotic for Children with Gastroenteritis. N Engl J Med 2018; 379:2015-2026 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1802597
- Lenfestey MW, Neu J. Probiotics in Newborns and Children. Pediatr Clin North Am. 2017 Dec;64(6):1271-1289. doi: 10.1016/j.pcl.2017.08.006
- Goldenberg JZ, et al., Probiotics for the prevention of Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea in adults and children. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017 Dec 19;12:CD006095. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD006095.pub4.
- Feng JR et al., Efficacy and safety of probiotic-supplemented triple therapy for eradication of Helicobacter pylori in children: a systematic review and network meta-analysis. Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 2017 Oct;73(10):1199-1208. doi: 10.1007/s00228-017-2291-6. Epub 2017 Jul 5
- The Rest And Repair Diet: Heal Your Gut, Improve Your Physical and Mental Health, and Lose Weight by Robert Keith Wallace, PhD and Samantha Wallace, Dharma Publications, 2019
ROBERT KEITH WALLACE is a pioneering researcher on the physiology of consciousness. His work has inspired hundreds of studies on the benefits of meditation and other mind-body techniques, and his findings have been published in Science, American Journal of Physiology, and Scientific American. After receiving his BS in physics and his PhD in physiology from UCLA, he conducted postgraduate research at Harvard University. Keith currently serves as Professor and Chairman of the Department of Physiology and Health, and is a Trustee at Maharishi University of Management (MUM) in Fairfield, Iowa. The author of several books, he has given hundreds of lectures on Maharishi Consciousness-Based education and health programs around the world.
SAMANTHA JONES WALLACE was once featured on the cover of Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and Look. Happily married for over forty years, Samantha and Keith have a combined family of four children and six grandchildren. A longtime practitioner of Transcendental Meditation, she also has a deep understanding of Ayurveda and its relationship to health and well being. Samantha is coauthor of The Rest And Repair Diet, Gut Crisis, and Quantum Golf, and is an editor of Dharma Parenting. Her new book, Deep Beauty, is a friendly introduction to Ayurveda with a special emphasis on Essential Oil skin care.