Probiotics—"good" bacteria that colonizes in your gut and helps improve digestion, immune defense, and even metabolism—may also extend certain health benefits when given to young children, according to a research review from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Published online November 29, 2010, in the journal Pediatrics, the report suggests that children with diarrhea from a viral infection, but who are otherwise healthy, can shorten the duration of illness when parents start probiotics as soon as symptoms are noticed (by an average of one day over children not taking probiotics). The review also found that probiotics can help prevent diarrhea in children who are taking antibiotics.
Probiotics are found naturally in yogurts labeled with live and active cultures (look for Bifidobacterium lactis on the ingredients label). But should parents go one step further and buy a separate children's probiotics supplement or buy probiotics-fortified baby formula? While the AAP does not find probiotics to be harmful to otherwise healthy children, the report did warn that live microorganisms should not be given to seriously ill children with weakened immune systems or who use intravenous catheters.
Though news about diarrhea and probiotics is encouraging, the AAP finds that not enough data exists to recommend probiotics to kids for constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, or Crohn's disease, or to prevent asthma or eczema in children, despite popular health claims.