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Probiotics vs. Prebiotics for Kids: Understanding the Difference and Benefits

Research has shown that 70% of the immune system is in the gut, so the condition of our kids’ gut health is crucial to their overall well-being [12]. Not only does a balanced gut support healthy digestion, but it also plays an important role in supporting their immunity as well [13]. In recent years, the use of probiotics and prebiotics has gained significant attention for their potential benefits in supporting a kid's gut health. Prebiotics and probiotics may sound similar, but they have very distinct characteristics. In this article, we will explore the science behind probiotics and prebiotics, shedding light on their distinct roles and uncover the unique benefits they can potentially provide for our kiddos’ gut health.

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics are live, beneficial bacteria that provide health benefits when consumed in adequate amounts [2]. They are found in certain foods like yogurt or supplements and help maintain a balanced microbiome. Probiotics work by colonizing the gut with beneficial bacteria that can support digestion. Scientists have identified hundreds of thousands of probiotic strains, but two of the most common and studied strains in kids include Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus [6, 9].

Possible Benefits of Consuming Probiotics Include:

  • Supports the Gut Microbiota-Brain Axis and Mood. The gut microbiota-brain axis is the communication between the brain and the gut. Possible health influences from a regular probiotic intake may include regulation of mood and anxiety. Probiotics affect mood through their ability to modulate pain in the gut. A study reported that the administration of Lactobacillus in the treatment of kids with functional abdominal pain (FAP) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is associated with a possible reduction of the intensity of pain [15].

  • Allergy support. Studies indicate an early imbalance in the gut microbiota of newborns may be related to future atopic diseases, such as asthma or rhinitis [9]. The specific health benefits vary between probiotic strains. Most studies suggest that the administration of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium in kids have shown beneficial effects, such as a reduction in hyperreactivity and inflammation caused by allergens [10].

It’s important to note that probiotics may not be right for all demographics. Always with your pediatrician before giving probiotic supplements to your little ones.

Key Takeaway 1:

Probiotics are the good bacteria found naturally in foods like yogurt. Introducing friendly bacteria like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium to the gut can help support symptoms related to digestive health and allergy support in kids.

What are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics, on the other hand, are non-digestible fibers that serve as food for the probiotics in the microbiome. They act as nutrition for these friendly bacteria strains, stimulating their growth and promoting a thriving gut microbiome. The foods we choose to feed our kiddos are important because it directly influences what the good bacteria feed on in our little one’s gut.

Possible Benefits of Consuming Probiotics Include:

  • Increase in beneficial gut bacteria. Specifically, Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, two strains of friendly gut bacteria in our kiddo’s microbiome [6,7,9]

  • Increased nutrient absorption. Prebiotics can help the body absorb minerals, such as calcium which we need to support bone health [7]

  • Immune system defense. The fermentation of prebiotics can influence the immune cells found in our gut, where 70% of our immune system is found [7, 12].

Our Growing Up Prebiotics contains prebiotic fiber from chicory root, designed to help with softer stooling and improved gut bacteria [5]. In six weeks with daily consistent use, our clinical research on our chicory root fiber demonstrates an increase in stooling frequency, a softer consistency, and a decrease in pain in kids [4].

Key Takeaway 2:

Prebiotics help nourish the probiotics in our little one’s microbiome. Consuming foods with prebiotic fiber can help increase good gut bacteria, support nutrient absorption, and influence the immune system in our kids.

Similarities Between Probiotics and Prebiotics

Both probiotics and prebiotics work together in maintaining a balanced gut environment and promoting healthy digestion. Together, they work to support gut health by:

  • Improving Bowel Movement Frequency

    Probiotics introduce beneficial bacteria directly into the gut, while prebiotics nourish and support the growth of these good bacteria. Synbiotics is the term used to describe the synergistic effect of combining both probiotics and prebiotics. Research evaluating the efficacy of synbiotics in kids found that synbiotic interventions helped support digestive health by improving the frequency of weekly bowel movements and lead to an increased amount of bifidobacteria, the good gut bacteria in their microbiome. [11].

  • Softens Stool to Support Constipation

    Constipation can be a common issue for kids, causing stomach discomfort. Prebiotics can help support constipation symptoms by increasing gut motility and movements [12] In particular, chicory root fiber specifically helps soften the stool and can help increase stooling frequency [4].

Differences Between Probiotics and Prebiotics

Besides the specific roles they play in the microbiome, the differences between probiotics and prebiotics comes down to the food sources they are found in. Getting probiotics and prebiotics into your kiddos’ diet doesn't have to be complicated. There are several probiotic-rich foods that kids can consume regularly, including:

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Fermented vegetables, such as kimchi

Similarly, prebiotic sources can be incorporated into your little one’s diets by including foods that are rich in fiber. Examples of prebiotic fiber include:

  • Apples
  • Oats
  • Avocados

It’s important to note that sometimes dietary sources may not be sufficient to meet the required levels of probiotics and prebiotics, especially if your kid has specific health conditions or dietary restrictions. In such cases, supplementation can be an option, but always check with your kid’s pediatrician first before introducing a new supplement routine. Your pediatrician can provide tailored recommendations based on your little one’s individual needs.

Summary:Both probiotics and prebiotics are two important components that work together for your little one’s digestive health. Probiotics introduce new friendly bacteria, while prebiotics like Begin Health’s Growing Up Prebiotics nourish the existing ones in the gut. Understanding the differences and incorporating both probiotics and prebiotics can be a key part to supporting your kiddos’ gut health. By including probiotic and prebiotic-rich foods in their diet and, if necessary, consulting healthcare professionals for supplementation, parents can give their kids a solid foundation for a healthy gut ecosystem.

Growing Up Prebiotics is made with only two ingredients to provide your little ones with 3 grams of prebiotic fiber per serving. The chicory root fiber found in our prebiotic formula can increase stooling frequency and help with a softer stool consistency after six weeks of daily use in kids [4].

References:

[1] Markowiak-Kopeć, P., & Śliżewska, K. (2017c). Effects of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics on Human Health. Nutrients, 9(9), 1021. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9091021

[2] Hojsak, I. (2017). Probiotics in Children: What Is the Evidence? Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition, 20(3), 139. https://doi.org/10.5223/pghn.2017.20.3.139

[3] Depoorter, L., & Vandenplas, Y. (2021). Probiotics in Pediatrics. A Review and Practical Guide. Nutrients, 13(7), 2176. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13072176

[4] Closa-Monasterolo, R., Ferré, N., Castillejo-DeVillasante, G., Luque, V., Gispert-Llauradó, M., Zaragoza-Jordana, M., Theis, S., & Escribano, J. (2016b). The use of inulin-type fructans improves stool consistency in constipated children. A randomised clinical trial: pilot study. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 68(5), 587–594. https://doi.org/10.1080/09637486.2016.1263605

[5] Lohner, S., Jakobik, V., Mihalyi, K., Soldi, S., Vasileiadis, S., Theis, S., Sailer, M., Sieland, C., Berényi, K., Boehm, G., & Decsi, T. (2018b). Inulin-Type Fructan Supplementation of 3- to 6-Year-Old Children Is Associated with Higher Fecal Bifidobacterium Concentrations and Fewer Febrile Episodes Requiring Medical Attention. Journal of Nutrition, 148(8), 1300–1308. https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxy120

[6] Vlasova, A. N., Kandasamy, S., Chattha, K. S., Rajashekara, G., & Saif, L. J. (2016). Comparison of probiotic lactobacilli and bifidobacteria effects, immune responses and rotavirus vaccines and infection in different host species. Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology, 172, 72–84. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.vetimm.2016.01.003

[7] Carlson, J., Erickson, J. L., Lloyd, B., & Slavin, J. L. (2018b). Health effects and sources of prebiotic dietary fiber. Current Developments in Nutrition, 2(3), nzy005. https://doi.org/10.1093/cdn/nzy005

[8] Sharifi-Rad, J., Rodrigues, C. F., Stojanović-Radić, Z., Dimitrijevic, M., Aleksić, A., Neffe-Skocińska, K., Zielinska, D., Kołożyn-Krajewska, D., Salehi, B., Prabu, S. M., Schütz, F., Docea, A. O., Martins, N., & Calina, D. (2020). Probiotics: versatile bioactive components in promoting human health. Medicina-lithuania, 56(9), 433. https://doi.org/10.3390/medicina56090433

[9] Navarro-Tapia, E., Sebastiani, G., Sailer, S., Almeida, L., Serra-Delgado, M., Garcia-Algar, O., & Andreu-Fernández, V. (2020). Probiotic Supplementation during the Perinatal and Infant Period: Effects on gut Dysbiosis and Disease. Nutrients, 12(8), 2243. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12082243

[10] Navarro-Tapia, E., Sebastiani, G., Sailer, S., Almeida, L., Serra-Delgado, M., Garcia-Algar, O., & Andreu-Fernández, V. (2020). Probiotic Supplementation during the Perinatal and Infant Period: Effects on gut Dysbiosis and Disease. Nutrients, 12(8), 2243. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12082243

[11] Tierney, B. T., Versalovic, J., Fasano, A., Petrosino, J. F., Chumpitazi, B. P., Mayer, E. A., Boetes, J., Smits, G., Parkar, S. G., Voreades, N., Kartal, E., Al-Ghalith, G. A., Pane, M., Bron, P. A., Reid, G., Dhir, R., & Mason, C. E. (2022). Functional response to a microbial synbiotic in the gastrointestinal system of children: a randomized clinical trial. Pediatric Research. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41390-022-02289-0

[12] Wiertsema, S. P., Van Bergenhenegouwen, J., Garssen, J., & Knippels, L. M. (2021b). The Interplay between the Gut Microbiome and the Immune System in the Context of Infectious Diseases throughout Life and the Role of Nutrition in Optimizing Treatment Strategies. Nutrients, 13(3), 886. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13030886

[13] Fragkou, P. C., Karaviti, D., Zemlin, M., & Skevaki, C. (2021). Impact of early life nutrition on children’s immune system and noncommunicable diseases through its effects on the bacterial microbiome, virome and mycobiome. Frontiers in Immunology, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2021.644269

[14] Yan, T. (2020, January 1). Probiotics for antibiotic-associated diarrhea in children. PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7012114/

[15] Cerdó, T., Ruiz, A. M., Suárez, A., & Campoy, C. (2017b). Probiotic, prebiotic, and brain development. Nutrients, 9(11), 1247. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9111247

May Zhu, RDN

May Zhu, RDN

May is the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and nutrition expert at Begin Health.



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