There’s a lot of buzz about the benefits of bacteria in the media, particularly for children, but this can be a confusing issue for many people. Why would you ever want to give your child bacteria to improve their health? Aren’t bacteria bad for us, causing infections and stomach upsets?
The simple answer is No! Not all bacteria are bad; in fact mounting evidence suggests that starting out with a healthy balance of friendly flora in their intestines could help to improve your child’s health and actually reduce the risk of infections and other health conditions as they grow up. Even better, having plenty of good gut flora (bacteria) is being linked to good long-term health.
So how do these microscopic microflora help to improve your child’s health?
It may seem weird, but the average human being is a home to literally trillions of bacteria who live all over our bodies, but most plentifully in the moist, warm areas in our intestines. Symbiotic, or ‘friendly’ bacteria are those that live in harmony with our bodies – we provide them with a home and food to eat, and they in turn offer us a host of health benefits.
Though we are typically born without any bacteria in residence, they begin to colonise in our bodies within a few days of birth. The first bacterial settlers are passed on to babies by their mother as they pass down the birth canal during a normal vaginal delivery.
These tiny passengers have been shown to have many positive effects in the body ; they work with the immune system helping to modulate immune responses, reducing the risk of allergies and protecting against infections and viruses. They help to improve digestive function, alleviating diarrhoea or constipation and helping to improve metabolism and nutrient absorption.
Studies have indicated that numerous health benefits may be seen in children who were given probiotic supplements, including a reduction in childhood illnesses and allergic symptoms such as eczema.
If children take on beneficial bacteria during birth, why are probiotic supplements necessary?
In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need to give supplements, but many factors can affect the integrity of a child’s gut flora. If the mother’s intestinal flora is compromised in any way, then the bacteria passed on to a baby may be unbalanced from the start. Vaginal infections during pregnancy, antibiotics, poor diet and even stress can all impact the delicate populations of probiotic bacteria in our intestines.
Additionally, those babies delivered by Caesarian section will not have the benefit of bacteria from mum, and often suffer from digestive problems or allergies such as eczema as a result. Any antibiotics given to your baby or child will kill off good as well as bad bacteria, and consequently can negatively affect their populations of friendly flora.
Why use supplements?
Isn’t it enough just to give your child yoghurt every day?
It’s true that fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir and sauerkraut have formed an important part of the human diet in most cultures for hundreds of years, and it’s still a good idea for most people to include these as part of a healthy diet.
But it’s often difficult to ascertain the levels of bacteria present in fermented foods; which species are present and how viable they are once consumed. Many of the bacteria found in fermented foods are typically ‘transient’, meaning that they have beneficial effects as they pass through the digestive system, but can’t be guaranteed to become resident in the intestines and restore the balance of flora present.
The bacterial strains used in OptiBac Probiotics products undergo stringent tests that guarantee they will adhere to the intestinal wall, and form new colonies, meaning that they’re likely to offer longer-lasting health beneifits.
So where do we find these so-called ‘friendly bacteria?’ in a supplement form?
The good news is that the folk at OptiBac Probiotics have made it very easy for you to add probiotic bacteria into your child’s daily healthcare regime.
They offer a specific product designed to be taken by children from 0-12 years, which comes in a powder neatly packaged in a handy sachet form. Unlike many other similar products, the sachets do not require refrigeration and are easy to add to a little water, milk or yoghurt.
To ensure that really helpful species of bacteria are passed on to their babies, we also recommend that mums-to-be take ‘For babies & children’ during the final trimester of pregnancy.
Breast-feeding mums can continue to take the product as evidence suggests that the bacteria continues to be passed on to baby via breast milk, or the product can be given directly to infants from birth.
Bifidobacteria infantis has been identified as one of the early settlers in a healthy child’s gut, which is why it is included in ‘For babies & children’ which is gluten-free and suitable for those with lactose intolerance.
So the question is not why would you give your child probiotic bacteria, but given the evidence supporting their use, why wouldn’t you?
Kerry Beeson BSc (Nut. Med.) BANT CNHC