A daily dose of probiotics can reduce the occurrences of diarrhea or respiratory tract infections in children who attend day care according to a new study.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that are similar to the natural and beneficial microorganisms found in the gut. They are often referred to as "good bacteria."
In a study in Mexico, researchers tested 336 healthy children ages 6 months to 3 years who were attending day care centers. Half received a daily dose of Lactobacillus reuteri, a beneficial gut bacterium naturally present in many foods and in most people; the other half got an identical placebo.
The children were given probiotics or the placebo for 3 months and then followed for another 3 months without the supplements. During the study, 69 episodes of diarrhea were reported in the placebo group and 42 in the group receiving the probiotics. The placebo group had 204 respiratory tract infections, compared with 93 in those taking L. reuteri. And the placebo takers spent an average of 4.1 days on antibiotics, while the supplement users averaged 2.7 days. The differences persisted during the 12-week follow-up.
"What's notable here is that they used a specific probiotic in a good design and they also did follow-up," said Stephen S. Morse, an infectious disease specialist at Columbia University who was not involved in the study. "This strengthens the evidence for the value of probiotics, but we still have a lot to learn."
The research group concluded that a daily administration of probiotics in healthy children in day care centers "had a significant effect in reducing episodes and duration of diarrhea and respiratory tract infection, with consequent cost savings for the communities".
Probiotics have been added to many food and beverage products making it easier for parents to add them to their child's diet.
The most common food is yogurt but some manufacturers have added probiotics to ice creams, granola bars, cereals, juices and yes…even pizza.
Some parents swear by probiotics saying that they have eased their children's symptoms of colic, eczema and intestinal problems.
Antibiotics kill bad bacteria, but they can also kill the good bacteria and throw a child's gut flora out of balance - leading to gastrointestinal distress. Previous studies have shown that adding supplements or foods containing probiotics to a child's diet can have a positive affect on his or her bacterial balance.
The study was published in the journal Pediatrics and was supported by a grant from a manufacturer of probiotic supplements.
Sources: Nicholas Bakalar, http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/17/probiotic-eases-ills-in-children/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0