Lately, I’ve been hearing and reading a lot about the value of prebiotics and probiotics in children’s diets. What, parents wonder, is the difference between the two?
Prebiotics are non-digestible nutrients that are found in foods such as legumes, fruits and whole grains. They’re also found in breast milk. Prebiotics have also been called fermentable fiber. Once ingested, prebiotics may be used as an energy source for the good bacteria that live in the intestines.
Probiotics are beneficial live bacteria that you actually ingest. These bacteria then pass from the stomach into the intestine to promote “gut health.” The gut is full of bacteria and these are the “good bacteria.” There are currently hundreds of different probiotics being marketed.
The research on the value of using prebiotics and probiotics has been ongoing, but there are actually very few randomized, double blind, controlled studies to document that pre- and probiotics provide any true benefit to treat many of the diseases they’re marketed to treat.
There are several areas where probiotics have been shown to be beneficial. By beginning probiotics early in the course of a viral “tummy infection” in children, the length of diarrhea may be reduced by one day.
Probiotics have also been shown to be moderately effective in helping to prevent antibiotic associated diarrhea, but not for treatment of that diarrhea.
There are also studies that are looking at giving very low birth weight preemies probiotics to help prevent a serious intestinal infection called necrotizing enterocolitis. To date, there seems to be evidence to support this and there are currently more studies ongoing.