Q&A: What are probiotics and prebiotics?
What are probiotics and prebiotics? I'm seeing lots of foods (even baby foods) including them these days. Are they safe for my baby?
Probiotics and prebiotics are substances thought to promote a healthy intestinal tract. Your (and Baby’s) intestinal tract contains what is commonly referred to as “normal flora.” The flora of your gut consists of hundreds of microorganisms that fight disease, help synthesize vitamins and hormones, and aid your immune system. These microorganisms include what are referred to as “good bacteria.” These good bacteria can attack unwanted intruders from disrupting the normal balance of the intestinal tract.
Prebiotics are foods that may help to stimulate and support the flora.
Probiotics are food or food supplements that contain potentially beneficial bacteria and/or yeasts. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), probiotics are live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host. The knowledge of probiotics was brought into popular scientific awareness by a Russian researcher in the early 1900s. He looked at cultures where people ate foods containing high quantities of fermented foods and found increased longevity and health.
Effects of Probiotics on Babies and Children
The safest forms of probiotics are found in yogurt or buttermilk. Prebiotics can be found in soybeans, artichokes, jicama, raw oats, unrefined wheat and barley, and breast milk. Many baby-food manufacturers are adding prebiotics and probiotics to foods. Safety does not seem to be an issue. Some manufacturers may charge more money, making it more expensive to get probiotics and prebiotics into babies’ diets.
There are reports of success when using probiotics for infants and children with diarrhea; however, Dr. Frank Greer, the head of the nutrition committee at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has the following view: “Though probiotics can’t hurt, it’s not clear that adding them to food actually boosts long-term health.” He feels that prebiotics are a safer option, boosting the probiotics that are already in the body.
When looking to use probiotics, check with your pediatrician to make sure you are buying a reputable brand. Follow directions for dosage and storage carefully.