UPDATE: To read a more recent blog post on this topic, please read The Gut Microbiota and Its Link with Food Allergies
In recent years, there has been a lot of attention on gut flora, the good bacteria that live in your digestive system and play a role in proper digestion, nutrient absorption, immune function and bowel health. Research has shown that infancy and childhood are critical periods in the development of a healthy gut environment that includes this good bacteria.
Health Benefits of Probiotics:
One way to alter the gut flora is with probiotics. Remember that probiotics are live “friendly” bacteria that naturally live within the human GI tract and provide health benefits to the host. Certain foods, such as yogurt, contain probiotics and when you eat these foods, you can add more friendly bacteria to your system. Note that PRObiotics are different than PREbiotics, which are a type of fiber that feeds the friendly bacteria already living in your GI tract. Probiotics and prebiotics are sometimes used together, a mixture known as “synbiotics”.
Scientific research shows that probiotics may help reduce certain diarrheal diseases such as antibiotic-associated diarrhea and acute gastroenteritis (stomach viruses). In addition, probiotics have been found to lower the risk of food allergy and improve colic in infants. Many parents choose to add probiotics to their child’s diet, either with natural sources like yogurt or with supplemental probiotics.
Probiotics and Food Allergies:
Because of the role probiotics plays with allergies and digestive health, a lot of Neocate mom and dads have questions about whether probiotics might be helpful for their child with food allergies or digestive problems. This is complicated because many probiotic foods are off limits for children with food allergies. Most of the clinical studies on the health benefits of probiotics were done with the strains Lactobacillus GG, L. casei, B. bifidum and S. thermophilus, all of which are traditionally used in dairy foods.
The good news is that it is possible to find allergy-friendly sources of probiotics, such as pickles, sauerkraut and kombucha tea. Probiotic supplements may also be a good option, but use caution when choosing one to be sure it is safe for your child’s food allergies. Ask your child’s doctor or nutritionist about whether a probiotic supplement is appropriate and see if they can recommend an allergy-friendly brand. If they don’t know of a particular brand, do your research, check labels, call the manufacturers and then discuss what you find with the doctor to decide upon the most appropriate one.
Readers, do your children with food allergies take a probiotic supplement? Have you found an allergy-friendly kind? Has it been helpful for your child?
— Mallory West