‘Probiotics’ are friendly microorganisms improving gut health. Let us explore the role of probiotics in your child’s health.
What are ‘probiotics’?
The term ‘probiotic’ means “for life” in Greek. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have stated that there is adequate scientific evidence to indicate that there is potential for probiotic foods to provide health benefits and that specific strains are safe for human use. The FAO and WHO defined probiotics as 'Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host'. These bacteria help maintain the natural balance of microflora in the intestines. The normal human digestive tract contains about 400 types of bacteria that promote a healthy digestive system.
Need for probiotics in children
As the gut microbiota is part of the human makeup, it is essential to maintain a healthy gut in your child right from birth. A child whose gut health is compromised turns susceptible to diarrhoea and respiratory infections. Consumption of probiotics leads to the development of healthy immunologic and digestive functions in your child. Hence, probiotics are considered to be potentially safe for children, as it improves their gut health when ingested.
Benefits of probiotics in children
Changes in gastrointestinal bacteria caused by diet, antibiotics or other factors could alter immune functions in children. Building a healthy gut microbiota using probiotic foods may be beneficial. The ingested probiotics target the intestine, its microflora and associated immune system.
Studies affirm that probiotics, especially Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species have been associated with the following benefits.
- Prevention and treatment of infectious, antibiotic or radiotherapy induced diarrhoea – Antibiotics kill the bad germs that cause infections in the body, but they also can kill the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Probiotics help in replenishing the lost healthy bacteria and restore the balance between healthful and harmful bacteria in your child’s gut.
- Immunomodulation – probiotics help strengthen your child’s immune system.
- Reducing blood cholesterol levels – probiotics ferment the soluble fiber in food, producing healthful short-chain fatty acids that nourish the cells of the large intestine. These protective fatty acids reduce the development of intestinal cancer by inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria and also travel to the liver decreasing the production of excess cholesterol.
- Gastrointestinal problems – probiotics help in reducing the severity of abdominal pain, cramping and bloating. It is also effective in treating irritable bowel syndrome and Helictobacter pylori infection.
- Nutrient metabolism – probiotics improve child growth through the prevention of infections and micronutrient deficiencies as they improve the absorption of certain nutrients (calcium, zinc and vitamin B12) and reduce the risk of anaemia.
- Lactose intolerance – lactose intolerance is the most common type of carbohydrate malabsorption. A child suffering from this condition lacks the enzyme lactase and is unable to digest lactose sugar present in dairy products. In such a case, yogurt and other fermented dairy products, promise to be an alternative to milk.
- Dental health – As simple as asking your child to eat a fermented product such as curd or cheese soon after feasting on a sugary food (chocolates or desserts), could be effective in preventing dental carries.
Since ages, traditional fermentation processes involving microbial activities, using locally available ingredients, which may be of plant or animal origin, are converted into edible products. The traditional fermented foods are mainly obtained from dairy products like yoghurt, curd, kefir, cheese, rabdi, paneer, shrikhand, lassi, fermented vegetable juices and non-fermented fruit juices. In India, idli, dosa, dhokla, khaman and tofu are certain popular traditional fermented foods. Leuconostoc mesenteroides, Streptococcus faecalis and Pediococcus cerevisiae are the significant microorganisms involved in the fermentation process. Consuming fermented rice (prepared by addition of water to cooked rice followed by overnight incubation) mixed with buttermilk and salt is a common practice in India. These fermented products have been consumed by us unknowingly as, probiotic food or drink, due to their enormous health benefits and has now been realized.
Safety factors associated with probiotic consumption in children
The consumption of probiotics exerts a tide of beneficial effects which is evidenced by rigorous scientific evaluation. Owing to the bundle of wellness, the pharmaceutical as well as food industries have been competing to introduce novel probiotic food products or supplements in order to cater to the increasing demand among consumers. From the consumer’s point of view, awareness of the strain or the combination of strains added in each product or supplement is warrantied. In 2011, the Indian Council of Medical Research and Department of Biotechnology have formulated guidelines for evaluation of probiotics in food. These guidelines teach us what to look for when buying a commercially available probiotic food or supplement.
When you are buying a commercially manufactured probiotic supplement read its label to know the composition of desirable strain(s), as per the guidelines. It is also necessary to understand the fact – ‘Too much of anything is good for nothing.’ Though probiotics have shown a convincing effect in alleviating a number of diseases in children, the average recommendations of dosage per day is still under research (commonly 5 to 10 billion CFUs per day). India being a land filled with indigenous fermented products, promotion of locally available probiotic foods, when compared to the industrially synthesized ones, could be an effective intervention to improve growth and wellness in children.
To know more about go through the pages of the ClipBook, Benefits Of Probiotics For Children.