Naturopathic Back to School Basics: Probiotics
Do you give your kids probiotics?
Every year it seems like the back to school commercials start to pop up earlier and
earlier in the summer months. Although these commercials are aimed at bringing
parents into office supply and clothing stores in prep for their kids returning to
school, as parents we can also use this time to implement nutritional strategies to
help our kids excel during the school year.
Besides the obvious beneficial lifestyle approaches like eating a balanced nutrient
rich diet and daily exercise, there are a few specific recommendations that may help
your kids have the edge when it comes to starting school.
Probiotics are live bacteria cultures that seem to have varying health benefits when
introduced into our gastrointestinal tract. Probiotics are naturally found in many
fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut and kombucha. It is
believed that as a species, fermented foods played a larger role in our diet as we
evolved and our bodies have grown to rely on these bacterial cultures for optimal
health and wellbeing. Our modern “western” diet has been relatively low in these
fermented foods and there have been hypothesis relating many chronic diseases of
the gastrointestinal tract and immune system back to imbalanced gut bacteria.
Subsequently we have witnessed a surge in probiotics being offered in supplemental
form as a way to help restore this balance. It is important that I stress the fact that
probiotics alone are not the complete picture with regard to a healthy
gastrointestinal and immune system but research has suggested that they do play a
Probiotics help boost the immune system – with kids heading back indoors and
spending large amounts of time in classrooms with each other (including daycare),
there is a dramatic increase in germ exposure and potential for kids to fall prey to
illness. In one study, 326 children aged 3-5 years were randomly assigned to
receive, in double-blind fashion, probiotic supplementation. Treatments were given
twice per day in divided doses for 6 months, including the winter season. Compared
with placebo, the probiotic group had the following results; fever reduction 53-73%,
cough reduction 41-62%, decreased runny nose 28-59%, decreased need for
antibiotics 68-82%, reduced absence from school 28-32%.
Probiotics help with allergies – Heading back indoors can trigger many kids who
are especially allergic to dusts and molds. With regard to asthmatic children with
allergic rhinitis, studies have shown the use of probiotics resulted in a significant
reduction in the inflammatory immune chemistry produced by peripheral blood
mononuclear cells. Further studies have shown specific down-regulation of T cells
(immune cells), which beneficially alter the balance of pollen specific antibodies in
seasonal allergic rhinitis. In short – probiotics lower the allergic load and decrease
Probiotics help with mood – Recent research is showing new gut-brain
connections as happy gut ecology seems to make for happier brains. In one
particular study, anxious mice dosed with probiotics showed lower levels of anxiety,
decreased stress hormones, and even increased brain receptors for
neurotransmitters vital in curbing worry, anxiety and fear. With better mood comes
greater ease and ability to learn in school settings and beyond.
Stay tuned for part 2 which will focus on cold/flu prevention and treatment.
Book a consultation with our Naturopathic Doctor Shawn Meirovici for
more information on child-friendly probiotic strains and dosages.
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Leyer, GJ et al. Probiotic effects on cold and influenza-like symptom incidence
and duration in children. Pediatrics 2009; 124-179.
Walker, WA. Mechanisms of action of probiotics. Clin Infect Dis. 2008; 46 (Suppl
Yang, G et al. Treatment of Allergic Rhinitis with Probiotics: An alternative
approach. N Am J Med Sci. Aug 2013; 5 (8): 465-68.
Javier, AB, Forsytthe, P & Cryan, J. Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates
emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in mice via the vagus
nerve. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. Sep 20, 2011; 108(38): 16050-55.