Kids and probiotics

Q: Do you ever recommend probiotics for children?

A: Probiotics may benefit kids in a number of ways, but research still needs to be done to understand exactly how they can be most beneficial.

The intestinal tract contains millions of microorganisms — primarily bacteria and fungi (yeast). These microorganisms are generally considered either good organisms — contributing to the overall health and well being of the person — or bad organisms — leading to illness, inflammation and/or intestinal distress.  

The good organisms help filter out and eliminate substances and toxins that could otherwise injure or damage the intestine. They promote the regulation of food digestion through the intestinal tract. Finally, these good organisms prevent a number of potential irritants and damaging substances from crossing through into the wall of the intestine.

The balance between the good and bad organisms can change from day to day. There are a number of factors that can tip this balance in a negative way. This includes poor food choices, emotional stress, lack of sleep, antibiotics, some types of medications and environmental factors.

It’s believed that a person can reverse some of these negative effects by eating foods and taking supplements that naturally boost the number of good organisms. This includes eating foods with active cultures like yogurt. Taking probiotic supplements directly can also be helpful. There are also good yeast supplements that can be prescribed or purchased over the counter.

So does all this work for kids? The answer is a definite maybe. And in kids with some conditions it’s more likely to be effective than others. This includes a child who’s getting over a bad stomach flu (gastroenteritis) and also children who are on antibiotics. The longer-term protective effects, such as the prevention of conditions like Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome, are still unknown.


Dr. Peter Dehnel is a board-certified pediatrician and medical director with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota. Send questions to This column is intended to provide general information only and not medical advice. Contact your health care provider with questions about your child.