By Dr Seema Khanna
Probiotics are used to replenish good bacteria, which the body needs to stay healthy. Bacteria help in digestion, absorbing nutrients and battling other germs that make you sick. Probiotics are called good bacteria or helpful bacteria because they help keep your gut healthy.
When you lose good bacteria in your body, for example, after or during the consumption of antibiotics, probiotics can help replace them. Many types of bacteria are classified as probiotics. The most common is lactobacillus, found in yoghurt or curd and other fermented foods. These help to cope with diarrhea and are helpful for kids with lactose intolerance disorder.
The other probiotic bacteria is biofidobacterium which is mostly found in dairy products and fermented foods like kimchi, pickles and yoghurt. Probiotics help in passing food through your gut by affecting nerves that control gut movement. Some of the common conditions probiotics are used to treat are:
1. Infections, diarrhea caused by virus, bacteria or parasites.
2. Medicine induced diarrhea, mostly caused by antibiotics.
3. Irritable bowel syndrome
4. Inflammatory bowel disease
Probiotics also help conditions like eczema, urinary and vaginal health, preventing allergies and cold as well as oral health. Children develop their microbiome in the womb and through early childhood. An unhealthy microbiome is responsible for many diseases and probiotics play an important role in keeping it healthy. Probiotics are the most natural product used to keep children’s gut healthy. Probiotics help in reducing the risk of diarrhea (a common ailment in toddlers). When given to pregnant and lactating mothers, it reduces the development and occurrence of eczema and allergies in newborns or the foetus.
According to a study, probiotics given to infants in the first three months prevent colic, constipation and acid reflux. They even reduce common respiratory tract infections in children, reducing absenteeism from school. But kids with compromised immune system may experience infection, acidity and bloating. Avoid probiotic supplements or consult your doctor before giving them to the child. Buy probiotics of reputed brands or as prescribed by the doctor. Check the expiration date before using them.
There are different types of probiotic supplements which are usually recommended:
1. Few contain lactobacillus. They are non-flavoured and hence can be added to any food or drink.
2. Others are chewable with different flavours like cherry, strawberry, etc, containing lactobacillus rhamnosus, biofidobacterium longum and lactobacillus acidophilus.
3. Instead of using supplements, use natural probiotic foods like yoghurt, curd, buttermilk and fermented foods. Kids enjoy yoghurt smoothies, anar (pomegranate) curd, fruit curd, jeera (cumin seeds) buttermilk. Honey is also a type of probiotic but should not be given to children below one year of age as the risk of botulism increases.
4. In a nutshell, probiotics may help release acute constipation, colic and acidic reflux in health infants and children.
(The writer is a consultant nutritionist.)