Choosing the right probiotic can actually be quite a complicated process. Through my research I have found that opinions are divided as to whether a single strain or multiple strain probiotic is best. Certainly in younger children and babies, a probiotic strain linked to use in babies is probably the best choice. Brands such as Babybiotics I have seen recommended mutiple times. Babybiotics contains probiotics commonly found in breastfed infants.
The only way to really ensure that you are giving your child the right probiotics is to do a Complete Digestive Stool Analysis such as this one. Sadly these aren't cheap but are well worth considering especially if your child has ongoing digestion or health issues.
Below I have detailed the main probiotic strains and their uses, it is worth understanding what the strains are meant to help with before choosing which probiotic to purchase. I will list a few that I have used and seen recommended. It is worth looking into fermented foods as another way of boosting probiotic levels and improving gut health. Personally we have had great sucess with Soil based probiotics - SBO's and these are the ones I am currently using for Beth. However, the use of SBO's is not without controversy.
List of Probiotic Bacteria
Lactobacillus casei – This is a well researched and understood probiotic. Being a member of the lactobacillius family it is able to metabolise lactose, which can help with lactose intolerance, but this is not what it is best known for. Lactobacillus casei is most well known for improving overall bowel health by improving the immune system in the digestive tract.
Lactobacillus rhamnosus – Another lactobacillius bacteria, meaning it should also be beneficial to those who suffer from lactose intolerance. This probiotic is well researched and has demonstrated an ability to improve immunity and reduce inflammation, which are extremely important for gut health. This bacteria has also demonstrated some unique benefits to the respiratory system, particularly with regards to upper respiratory infections (URI). This is quite a unique benefit for a probiotic, and the only other probiotic which has shown similar benefits is Bacillus subtilis (see below).
Lactobacillus acidophilus – Another lactose sugar metaboliser, which is often found in fermented dairy products such as yoghurt. It is possibly the oldest known probiotic, and research has shown it can prevent/ control intestinal infections, help control serum cholesterol levels, and exerts anticarcinogenic activity. It is most commonly associated with ‘balancing the gut microflora’, but this may be due to its long history of use as a probiotic, as opposed to any specific antibacterial properties.
Lactobacillus plantarum – This lactose digesting bacteria is extremely interesting. Consumption of this bacteria has been shown to help reduce blood pressure, and is possibly the only probiotic to have this benefit. This bacteria can also inhibit a number of pathogens and reduce inflammation in the gut.
Bacillus coagulans – This species is less researched than other strains, and so research is less conclusive. Nonetheless, some small studies have shown that it can protect against symptoms of IBS and bloating and there is even evidence that it can provide ‘borderline statistically significant improvement’ in rheumatoid arthritis. The research is promising, but rather limited compared to other probiotics.
Bacillus subtilis – This bacteria is commonly found in both humans and ruminants, but its function as a probiotic is not as well researched as other probiotics. It is known to support the immune system in the digestive system (as many other probiotics do) and can help prevent diarrhoea. There is concern that this bacteria can actually cause illness in people who have a weakened immune system, but the number of people this will affect is minuscule.
Bacillus clausii – This bacteria has been shown to stimulate the immune system by stimulating the proliferation of a number of immune cells such as T-cells. There is also research showing that this bacteria can help protect against respiratory infections, and it could compliment the similar benefits that lactobacillus rhamnosus exerts.(see above).
Lactobacillus paracasei – A well researched bacteria which has been reported to help control blood cholesterol/ blood pressure, maintain a healthy stomach lining, support the immune system, protect against osteoporosis and even inhibit fat tissue accumulation. While this isn’t a ‘cure-all’ probiotic, it certainly has been shown to benefit a number of systems to some degree.
Lactobacillus delbrueckii ssp. bulgaricus – There is less research on this bacteria than other probiotics, but current research has demonstrated some profound benefits for the immune system by increasing the number of immature T cells and slowing the rate and which some T cells age.
Lactobacillus salivarius – This is a pretty well researched probiotic, and is associated with improving hosts over-all well-being, and alleviation of intestinal disease. There is also evidence that this probiotic can reduce the risk of developing colon cancer, but this has only been demonstrated in animal models.
Lactobacillius reuteri – This bacteria has had a large amount of research done on it. It has been shown to suppress inflammation in the gut, prevent the growth of common gut pathogens, and most interesting of all – increase the amount of vitamin D in the host. This is the only bacteria which has been shown an ability to increase the amount of vitamin D in the host, and is an extremely rare and useful benefit.
Lactobacillus helveticus – This is a relatively well understood probiotic, and its benefits to the host include supporting the immune system, improving bioavailablilty of nutrients, and removing allergens from the gut.
Lactococcus lactis ssp. lactis – This bacteria has been shown to combat ulcerative colitis in animal studies, but research on humans is limited, and it is not as well researched as other lactobacillius spp.
Bifidobacterium bifidum – This bacterium is well researched, and is a common bacteria found in probiotic supplements. It has been shown to be able to fight infections in the digestive tract, inhibit the growth of pathogenic yeast and reduce the severity of non-digestive tract related illnesses (such as the common cold).
Bifidobacterium breve – This bacterium is often though to help ‘balance the gut’, and plays a role in regulating bowel movement and general gut health. There is also some interesting research showing that supplementing your diet with this probiotic can help protect against skin damage from the sun. Whilst this is interesting, it has only been demonstrated in animals models, and is not a reason to stop using sun-cream!
Bifidobacterium animalis – This bacteria can be found in fermented foods such as yoghurt. It is known for its ability to improve the immune function in the digestive system, and there is emerging evidence that it may be able to curb weight gain in obese people. However, this has only been demonstrated in animal models.
Bifidobacterium lactis – This is a well understood probiotic. It is noted for its ability to ‘settle’ the stomach, and has been reported to reduce bloating and general stomach discomfort. What is particularly interesting about this probiotic is that is has been shown to inhibit the toxic effects induced by wheat gliadin, which makes this probiotic very interesting. With wheat such a debatable topic, yet a staple to many, this bacteria could help minimise some of the negative effects of gluten.
Bifidobacterium infantis – This bacteria has been show to reduce the symptoms of IBS32 and reduce inflammation. It has been noted that its ability to reduce inflammation is not limited to the digestive system, and has been shown to combat inflammation throughout the body.
Bifidobacterium longum – This probiotic is most noted for its ability to support the immune system of the gut, but it has also been shown to have some anti-inflammatory effects. There is some evidence that it may be able to help combat symptoms of hey-fever, which is thought to be due to its immuno-supportive properties, but there is limited research on this.
Streptococcus thermophilus – This bacteria is used in yoghurt production, but its benefits as a probiotic are debated as it may not survive the high acidity of the stomach. As such, the research is quite limited, but there is evidence that it can help strengthen the digestive system and protect against various causes of diarrhoea, including travellers diarrhoea when taken alongside other probiotics. How much of this benefit is from the other probiotics is uncertain though. Note - this strain is not recommended for children with PANDAS.
Saccharomyces boulardii – This is not a bacteria but a yeast, and a rather well researched yeast I might add. A number of clinical trials on this yeast have been reviewed and it has shown an ability to protect against a number of digestive tract ailments such as antibiotic associated diarrhoea (AAD), Clostridium difficile infection, IBS, ulcerative colitis, Chron’s disease and various parasite infections. It is not the most thoroughly researched probiotic, but the current research has shown some very real benefits.