A new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) finds that probiotics — types of “good” bacteria that colonize in your gut and may help improve digestion, immune defense and even metabolism — can have certain health benefits in some children.
The AAP review, published Monday by the journal Pediatrics, suggests that giving probiotics early to children with diarrhea from a viral infection, but who are otherwise healthy, can shorten the duration of illness. The review also found that probiotics can help prevent diarrhea in children who are taking antibiotics. (More on Time.com: The Scoop on Raising Baby, from Two Mom Docs)
But the AAP stopped short of recommending that probiotics be added to children’s formula (although infant foods and formula that already contain probiotics, such as Bifidobacterium lactis, which has been available in formula since 2007, aren’t considered harmful to healthy children), and warned that the live microorganisms should not be given to seriously ill children with weakened immune systems or who use intravenous catheters. There’s also not enough data to recommend probiotics to kids for constipation, irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease, or to prevent asthma or eczema in children, the AAP reports.
The probiotic industry has taken off in recent years — evidenced by labels on yogurt, sports drinks and even some vitamins, which proudly display “probiotic” and “with live cultures” on their packaging. Companies claim that these organisms boost health by influencing the gut microflora — the masses of bacteria in the intestinal tract that are acquired at birth (in the birth canal and, later, through the environment, including breast milk) and are thought to play a role in various functions, including allergies, digestion, inflammation and perhaps even weight gain. (More on Time.com: 5 Pregnancy Taboos Explained (or Debunked))
For consumers who seek the friendly bacteria found in probiotic foods, it’s worth noting that they may not be present in the amounts the labels suggest. The Washington Post reports:
The bacteria in the products are only helpful if they’re alive, which isn’t always the case.
“Consumers should keep in mind that a large percentage of organisms in a probiotic supplement may die before the product is even purchased and labels can be misleading or incorrect,” said Dr. Tod Cooperman, president of ConsumerLab.com, which tests products and reports on their quality.
The company tested probiotic supplements last year. Two children’s probiotics contained only 7 percent and 21 percent of the listed amounts. Cooperman suggested that products be stored in sealed containers out of heat, light and humidity. He said it’s best to refrigerate them.