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Everybody knows that kids pick up billions of bacteria with their hands. And if you have had children or you have spent a lot of time around children, you know that many of those bacteria find their way into the child's body and cause infection.

Probiotics for Childhood Allergies

One way of stopping many childhood infections, however, is to use bacteria to fight bacteria through probiotics.

Probiotics are formulations of "friendly" bacteria. Usually emphasizing bacteria such as Lactobacillus, probiotic foods, such as yogurt, and probiotic supplements, usually in the form of capsules, keep a steady supply of useful bacteria flowing into the child's digestive tract to keep pathogenic, "unfriendly" bacteria in check. Probiotic bacteria don't just fight infectious bacteria, they also check the growth of normally harmless microorganisms such as yeast, which don't cause problems until they multiply out of control.

When do children need probiotics? As a general rule, a child (or an adult) needs to reestablish symbiotic bacteria after they have been wiped out by antibiotics or if there is a disease condition that benefits from probiotic treatment. The list of children's conditions improved by probiotic supplementation is lengthy.

Finnish scientists have found that children who consume probiotic foods on a regular basis have fewer symptoms during pollen season. This is due to changes in the lining of the nose reflecting changes in the lining of the colon after the introduction of healthy bacteria. Hay fever, incidentally, depletes symbiotic bacteria in the colons of healthy children.

Probiotics for Preventing Infectious Diarrhea

Australian scientists reporting in the Medical Journal of Australia have found that giving children Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (which is a very specific symbiotic bacterium) is as effective an antibiotics in preventing recurrent infectious diarrhea caused by the bacterium Clostridium. It is only the Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG strain that prevents diarrhea; Italian researchers have found that Saccharomyces boulardii, or Bacillus clausii, or a mix of L delbrueckii var bulgaricus, Streptococcus thermophilus, L acidophilus, and Bifidobacterium bifidum, or Enterococcus faecium are ineffective in preventing the childhood diarrhea caused by infection. Read the label to make sure it is providing Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG.

Probiotics for Antibiotic-Induced Diarrhea

The reestablishment of friendly bacteria prevents the buildup of toxins released by pathogenic bacteria. It also assists in the processing of plant foods to release their vitamins A, C, and E, and beta-carotene. A study in the British Journal of General Practice found that eating yogurt does not conclusively prevent antibiotic-induced diarrhea in children, but there is nearly universal agreement in the medical literature that probiotic foods and supplements relieve diarrhea that starts after a child is treated with antibiotics.

Probiotics for Children with Crohn's Disease

Two Israeli physicians report that children with Crohn's disease who are given just probiotic supplements have as much freedom from flare-ups of the condition as children treated with a combination of probiotic supplements and steroids.

Probiotics for Children with Constipation

A Dutch research team found that giving children a mixture of probiotic bacteria for 4 weeks relieved abdominal pain, increased the average frequency of bowel movement from once to three times a week, and made hard stools soft in a study of children aged 4 to 17. Unlike most research studies involving probiotic supplements for children, this study used a mixture of bacteria, containing Bifidobacteria (B.) bifidum, B. infantis, B. longum, Lactobacilli (L.) casei, L. plantarum and L. rhamnosus, for maximum benefit.

Probiotics for Malnourished Children

An Indian research team has found that giving malnourished children "curd" as part of their protein supplement stops the formation of inflammatory cytokines that can induce muscle loss or even starvation.

Probiotics for Overweight Children

Finnish scientists have found that changes in the healthy bacteria in the colon precede childhood weight gain, suggesting that regular consumption of foods or supplements containing probiotic bacteria may prevent weight gain.

Probiotics for Kids with Cystic Fibrosis

Physicians at the Hospital Materno-Infantil Vall d'Hebron in Barcelona, Spain, report that children with cystic fibrosis given supplemental Lactobacillus GG had fewer problems with fatty, floating stools, better fat absorption from food, and fewer problems with yeast overgrowth.

Any child of any age can take probiotics, although you don't want to give an infant or toddlers probiotics in capsule form. It's also important to know that the first few days after you begin to reestablish healthy bacteria in any digestive system, child's or adult's, there may be a short "war" to oust the pathogens. There are no particular toxins released from this battle between probiotic bacteria and their foes that enter the bloodstream, but there can be considerable flatulence and possibly loose stools.

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