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If you haven’t noticed the words “live and active cultures” or “probiotics” emblazoned across food packaging at the grocery store recently, you must be shopping with your eyes closed.
These days one of the hottest marketing trends is adding probiotics to foods as a way to boost health. Many medical experts believe probiotics may increase the amount of beneficial bacteria in people’s intestinal tracts as well as aid digestion, boost the body’s natural defenses, and fight off harmful bacteria that can cause health problems. Because the evidence is limited, there’s a lot of speculation about the benefits of probiotics, but Dr. Eczema and asthma are two conditions that doctors are hoping can be prevented with probiotics.
That said, registered dietitian, Alison Eastwood, thinks parents should incorporate foods that naturally contain probiotics into their kids’ diets. Of the several hundred probiotic-product lines on the market in North America, “15 to 20 have clinical studies behind them” Gregor Reid, a professor of microbiology at the University of Western Onatrio’s Lawson Research Institute, recently told The Wall Street Journal. Look for three names–in Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, for example, the final two letters identify the strain. The best evidence is when the actual product–not just the bacterium–has been tested in humans. Say, for example, you want information on the active bacteria in Activia, a probiotic-enhanced yogurt from Dannon Co. You can find additional consumer guidelines for choosing probiotics on the International Scientific Association for Probiotics Web site. Bottom line: Incorporate some probiotic-containing foods such as yogurt into your child’s regular diet, but be sure to read the labels and do your research before filling your shopping cart. Learn all about probiotics, starting with their discovery in the early 20th century, to how they're tested and produced today. Last year, 231 new probiotic-containing products hit grocery and pharmacy shelves, up from just 34 in 2005, according to market-research firm Datamonitor PLC. According to the World Health Organization, they’re “live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” This healthy bacteria is found in fermented food products such as yogurt, sour cream, sauerkraut, and buttermilk. Experts are conducting studies to determine if probiotics can be used to prevent and treat all sorts of conditions, many of them common in kids, including asthma, colds, colic, lactose intolerance, and dental cavities.

Cabana says strong evidence shows that certain strains of probiotic bacteria can be used to treat children with infectious diarrhea and prevent the likelihood of antibiotic associated diarrhea and urogenital infections such as yeast infections. While supplements of specific probiotic strains are generally considered safe for kids, Dr. Fermented foods contain healthful bacteria: Kombucha Tea, sour cream, buttermilk, sauerkraut, pickles, and many yogurts.
David Becker, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Pediatrics at UCSF, actually made some phone calls to yogurt companies to find out the concentration of probiotics in products.
Cabana says the key is to read the label–that’s the fine print–to make sure the product contains live cultures. The product label identifies the strain as Bifidus Regularis, but this is only a marketing name.
Also, talk to your pediatrician about supplements to treat conditions, especially if your child has diarrhea.
Plus, top experts in the field will address common questions like: how effective are probiotics for digestive health can probiotics support your immune system and lessen allergy symptoms and how safe are probiotics for infants and children? The dizzying array of options includes Kashi Vive cereal, Attune granola bars, Kraft LiveActive cheese, and Dannon’s DanActive yogurt.
Probiotics are also available as supplements; these formulations can be identical to the organisms that colonize the gut. Cabana says that the evidence is strongest for their use to treat or prevent a specific condition such as diarrhea.
You want to look for products that list a specific strain of bacteria on their label or on their Web site. A product that simply uses the first two names may include a similar, but not identical, bacterium that doesn’t have the same science behind it.
Otherwise, consumers can do an Internet search of the specific bacterial strain to see if there is credible evidence of a product’s health claims. The Activia Web site, under the tab “for health-care professionals,” links you to summaries of scientific papers that use the scientific name, Bifidobacterium animalis DN-173 010, which has been found to hasten digestion. Many of these are kid foods and you have probably noticed some items cleverly designed to tempt children such as Lifeway ProBugs, organic whole-milk kefir in squishy plastic bottles decorated with silly illustrations of bugs. Michael Cabana, chief of general pediatrics at UCSF Children’s Hospital, says there’s an abundance of studies exploring probiotics’ potential, but relative few studies in U.S.

Cabana says you should check with your pediatrician about using a supplement; a doctor can help you determine which strain of bacteria and which dose to use. He says that no studies have shown that probiotics can treat asthma, but there’s some potential for prevention.
In general, high doses of 1 billion to 10 billion colony forming units are needed, depending on the strain you are using. As a result, companies are fortifying foods with probiotics in an effort to re-introduce this bacteria. For additional information, you can do an Internet search of that name and many of the scientific studies on the strain pop up. The concentrations of probiotics in food products are likely too low to do the trick, says Dr.
It’s especially important for kids who are taking antibiotics for ear infections and such to eat foods with probiotics because every time they’re given an antibiotic it kills the healthy bacteria in their gut. These companies claim their products offer a range of health benefits, but only some of the claims are based on reputable science.
Also, parents should consider the full list of ingredients in these inoculated foods–for example, are they loaded with fructose syrup? When I asked about general numbers, specifically saying that dosages studied and found effective were around 10 billion organisms per dose, the Stonyfield rep said that in a ‘serving’ of their yogurt had at least that many organisms. Cabana says, there were one or two published probiotic studies a year, while in 2005, over 350 studies were published. However, there are other contradictory studies from other countries, such as Australia and Germany. Hopefully, our study funded by the National Institutes of Health (not a pharmaceutical company) can shed some light on this issue.

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