Probiotics: when to take them? How to choose the right ones? + For children and infants

Probiotics: when to take them? How to choose the right ones? + For children and infants
Photo source: Getty images

Why are probiotics important, if at all? Do we need them? How safe are they?

Probiotics are products containing live microorganisms. Nowadays, the use of probiotics is highly promoted. But are they necessary for our life and health? And are they even safe?!

Probiotics, prebiotics, symbiotics - what is the difference between them?

Names you have probably heard before in your life. They may sound similar, but their meaning is different.

Do you know what they mean? Let's take a look.

Probiotics are single or multi-ingredient cultures of living microorganisms. Their use has a positive effect on the intestinal microflora, on our immune system and on the body.

They include:

  • lactobacilli
  • bifidobacteria
  • streptococci
  • enterococci
  • sacharomyces

Prebiotics are indigestible substances in food. They promote the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria in the colon.

Symbiotics are products that contain a probiotic and a specific prebiotic. This combination contributes to the longer survival and effect of probiotics.

Functional foods are foods that have a health benefit. An example is yoghurt, which contains both probiotic bacteria and prebiotics. A natural functional food is breast milk.

The best probiotics - how do I know/how do I choose?

There are countless products on the market.

So how do you decide on the best one?
And you often ask:
How do I choose the right probiotic?

Below we offer you some advice on how to choose the right one:

  • prefer products that are registered as medicinal products
  • compare the amount of probiotic strains (referred to as CFU/g)
    • ideally, the product should contain1010 or more of these strains
  • compare the number of probiotic strains (multi-ingredient strains tend to be more effective).
  • pay attention to the expiry date - there are not always sufficient live organisms in the product at the end of its shelf life
  • choose the right form:
    • for children - drops
    • children from 3 years of age - chewable tablets
    • adults - capsules

The form in which the probiotic enters the digestive tract must contain sufficient quantities of viable bacteria.

Many people think that eating yogurt or fermented vegetables is enough to deliver probiotic cultures into our bodies.

However, this is not entirely true.

Yes, these so-called functional foods contain a large number of beneficial microorganisms. However, the acidic pH of the stomach will kill most of them. Therefore, it is more ideal to supplement them with appropriate preparations.

Can probiotics affect immunity?

The site of action of probiotics is the gastrointestinal tract. Its mucosa is populated by a huge number of bacteria. The spectrum of intestinal microflora acquired in early childhood is crucial for the overall development of the organism.

The following table shows the number of bacteria in different parts of the digestive system

Part of the digestive system Number of microorganisms
Oral cavity 1010-12
Stomach and duodenum 106-10
Larynx and ileum (jejunum and ileum) 106-10
Large intestine 1012-14

This staggering number - 100 trillion bacteria - represents more than 1 kg. And they outnumber the cells in the human body by a factor of ten.

In addition to processing food, our intestines have another important function. In an adult human, the total surface area of the digestive tract is approximately 200m2. The small and large intestines together form the largest organ of immune defence.

The lining of the intestine forms a barrier to pathogenic microorganisms that enter our body with food. Therefore, the intestinal microflora, along with other parts, is an important part of this barrier. It also plays an important role in protecting against colonisation of the digestive tract by pathogenic bacteria.

Colonisation of the digestive tract also has an effect on the proper functioning of the immune system - it induces so-called oral tolerance. Thanks to this, the organism can distinguish between beneficial and pathogenic microorganisms.

If the balance between the immune response and its tolerance is disturbed, a number of diseases arise:

  • infectious
  • allergic - asthma, eczema, allergic rhinitis
  • autoimmune - type 1 diabetes mellitus, Crohn's disease

Intestinal microflora plays a key role in the formation of a functional immune system.

Therefore, probiotics have a beneficial effect on mucosal and systemic immunity and on the overall increase of the body's immunity.

Children fight against microorganisms, animation shows the body's defence mechanisms
It is proven to be beneficial for immunity. Source: Getty Images

When to take probiotics?

The use of probiotics is really wide.

Your common question is: when to take probiotics?

Studies have shown that they shorten the duration or alleviate symptoms of disease when:

  • nausea associated with antibiotic use
  • travel-related diarrhoea
  • gastroenteritis associated with rotavirus infection
  • lactose intolerance
  • ulcerative colitis
  • Crohn's disease
  • Helicobacter pylori infection
  • atopic dermatitis
  • food allergy
  • diarrhoeal diseases - of bacterial and viral origin
  • irritable bowel syndrome - alleviation of symptoms
  • reflux in children
  • constipation
  • prevention of systemic candidiasis

Probiotics and unborn babies

Every mom wants the best for her baby.

Many of them therefore wonder whether they can influence their baby's health already during pregnancy.

The answer is - YES!

The administration of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG to pregnant women and subsequently to breastfed babies has led to a reduction in the incidence of allergic diseases in babies.

Consumption of probiotic preparations containing Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium infantis and Lactococcus lactis for 12 months is recommended for expectant mothers at high risk of allergic reactions, such as.

  • Atopic dermatitis
  • food allergies
  • allergic rhinitis
  • bronchial asthma

This therapy, followed by administration of probiotics even after delivery, resulted in a reduction in the incidence of atopic dermatitis compared to placebo. This condition was maintained in the later years of the child's life.

However, in the adult population with clinical manifestations of atopic dermatitis, probiotics had no clinical effect.

Probiotics for babies - up to 1 year of age

Colonization of the gut by microbes begins at birth.

Mother's milk contains oligosaccharides - prebiotics - which promote the production and growth of bifidobacteria in breastfed babies. They also have an effect on stool - softening it and regulating its frequency.

Following the example of breast milk, oligosaccharides are added to milk substitutes. In some cases, probiotics themselves are also added.

However, children fed artificial milk have a more complex microflora with fewer bifidobacteria.

Studies have shown that the addition of galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) in a ratio of 9:1 leads to a gut microbiota composition similar to that of breastfed children. We can therefore assume the same healthy development in non-breastfed children.

Delayed intestinal colonisation is observed in children:

  • born by section
  • premature infants
  • whose mothers took antibiotics before birth
  • who took antibiotics after birth

The so-called "adult" intestinal microflora is acquired by the child between the first and second year of life.

The colonization of the digestive tract shortly after birth is an important moment for:

  1. protection of the organism against adverse environmental influences
  2. favourable stimulation of the immune system
  3. better use of nutrients from food
  4. activation of other functions of the digestive tract

Probiotics in the form of drops can be administered to children from the 1st month of life.

Diet with big eyes eating yoghurt
The child acquires an "adult" intestinal microflora between the 1st and 2nd year of life. Source: Getty Images

Probiotics and constipation in children

Hard stools or sometimes even constipation are very common, especially in premature babies.

Probiotics are the best choice in this case.

Studies show that probiotics have an effect on:

  • consistency
  • softening
  • stool frequency quantity
  • stool movement

However, they do not cause diarrhea. Stool modification results in a happier tummy.

Probiotics and colic

Colicky tummy aches in babies are every parent's nightmare. Many have been through it. The inconsolable crying that comes unexpectedly. The little man red in the face. The clueless mommy and daddy.

In such cases, many reach for probiotic drops.

Unfortunately, we have no relevant evidence that probiotics help with colic. On the contrary, research shows that prebiotics - oligosaccharides - may have a beneficial effect. By supporting the gut flora, they help to eliminate the symptoms of colic.

Probiotics and colic

The administration of probiotics is recommended for diarrhoea caused by antibiotic treatment.

They are also very effective in cases of diarrhoea caused by viruses (rotavirus) or bacteria.

In the case of diarrhoea, it is best to use products containing Lactobacillus GG or the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii.

Both of these products are suitable from infancy onwards.

Probiotics and preschoolers

In preschool children, 6 to 8 infections per year are considered quite natural. In schoolchildren, the normal frequency of illness is 2-4 times per year.

However, preschool children tend to get sick 2-3 times more often.

Administration of probiotics containing bifidobacteria and lactobacilli has a positive effect on reducing the number of respiratory illnesses. Also on gastrointestinal manifestations.

In this age group, preparations in the form of chewable tablets are recommended. They are available in different fruit flavours, so children love them.

Safety of probiotics

In Europe, food and animal nutritionists assess the various micro-organisms used in food and food supplements. Therefore, all probiotic products placed on the market are non-toxic and safe.

In conclusion, probiotics play an irreplaceable role in our lives and especially in our digestive tract.

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Interesting resources

  • - A meta-analysis of the effects of probiotics and synbiotics in children with acute diarrhea
  • - Prebiotics and infant nutrition, prof. MUDr. Josef Sýkora, Ph.D.Charles University in Prague, Faculty of Medicine in Pilsen, University Hospital Pilsen, Children's Clinic
  • - PREBIOTICS, PROBIOTICS AND SYNBIOTICS, doc. MUDr. Jiří Nevoral, CSc.Pediatric Clinic, 2nd Faculty of Medicine, Charles University in Prague
  • - NUTRITION, PROBIOTICS AND THE IMMUNE SYSTEM PART II: NUTRITION, INJURY, PROBIOTICS AND IMMUNE SYSTEM, prof. RNDr. Jan Krejsek, CSc., Mgr. Manuela Kudlová, Mgr. Martina Koláčková, MUDr. Jakub Novosad, Institute of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, Faculty of Medicine, Charles University in Hradec Králové
  • - Principles of efficacy and safety evaluation of probiotics and characteristics of registered dietary supplements containing probiotics and prebiotics, RNDr. Vladimír Špelina, CSc., Ing. Daniela Winklerová, State Institute of Public Health, Prague
  • - Prebiotics and infant nutrition, prof. MUDr. Josef Sýkora, Ph.D. Charles University in Prague, Faculty of Medicine in Pilsen, University Hospital Pilsen, Children's Clinic
  • - Baby Probiotics: Are They Safe?
  • - USE OF PROBIOTICS IN PEDIATRICS USE OF PROBIOTICS IN PEDIATRICS, Dr. Petr Tláskal, CSc.Children's Polyclinic of the Motol Hospital and 2nd Faculty of Medicine, Prague
  • - Diarrhoeal diseases and their treatment, MUDr. Helena Ambrožová, PhD.I. Infectious Diseases Clinic of the 2nd Faculty of Medicine of the Charles University in Prague
  • - Intestinal microflora in early childhood - the role in the development of infectious and allergic diseases, doc. MUDr. Vojtěch Thon, Ph.D.Institute of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, Faculty of Medicine, Medical University of Brno
  • - Probiotics in the prevention of infections in preschool children, MUDr. Pavel Frühauf, CSc.Department of Paediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 1st Faculty of Medicine, Charles University in Prague
  • - Probiotics yes or no?
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