Do kids benefit from friendly bacteria?

July 29, 2009 1:56:59 PM PDT
Many people eat foods like yogurt that have probiotics added to them. These live cultures are known as "friendly bacteria," similar to those that normally live in the intestine. And people who use probiotic products do so hoping to help their digestion and fight disease. Lee Biviano is a mom who believes in the health benefits of probiotics. She is at her 2-year-old son's pediatrician's office to get him vaccinated. Lee is quite vocal about her views on probiotic foods for kids.

"It's more natural, no chemicals, which is the approach that I'd first like to take if I could, especially with kids," she said.

A new study on kids and their responses to probiotics found these products reduced cold and flu-like symptoms in kids who ate them.

"I was pretty impressed because the benefits seemed significant and substantial for a lot of children," said Dr. Stephen Turner, at Long Island College Hospital.

The study in the journal, "Pediatrics," was done in China. Researchers looked at more than 300 children between the ages of 3 and 5 who had winter colds and compared those who ate probiotics to those who didn't. They found the kids who ate probiotics twice a day had a reduction in fever symptoms, coughing and runny noses compared to those who didn't.

But other studies aren't as impressive. Probiotics were studied in kids taking antibiotics to see if the probiotics reduced side effects like diarrhea. The result was that there was no real benefit in the kids who ate the probiotics.

The cold symptom study in "Pediatrics" was small. Also, records were made by parents and caregivers, not the doctors in the study. And finally, the study was sponsored by Danisco, a Danish maker of probiotic products.

"I think, over time, if we're able to replicate this study with more children, we can get a better sense as to why it's effective," Dr. Turner said. "For the most part, probiotic foods are safe for kids who can tolerate milk products."

Dr. Turner warns parents, however, not to give probiotics to kids younger than 9 months of age.


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