5 Myths About Children’s Probiotics and Good Gut Bacteria

Probiotics aren’t going to do much for colic and they probably shouldn’t be given to healthy kids, but that doesn't mean good bacteria aren't important.

Probiotics are worthless for healthy children. True, there is a growing sense that some bacteria are actually really great for humans. And true, scientists have recently doubled down when it comes to studying the beneficial bacteria within commercial probiotics. But few medical professionals feel that healthy children need to take probiotics prophylactically, and claims to the contrary are more health fad than solid science.

Here are 5 myths that will help parents cool it a bit with the bacteria craze:

Myth #1: Probiotics Help With Colic

They don’t, and we’re sorry. Because we know that colic is incredibly frustrating. Its very definition is maddening: any prolonged crying that happens for no apparent reason. Ugh. So we understand that you’re ready to try any remedy that claims to make your baby stop crying. But probiotics just ain’t it. Studies have shown that probiotics implicated in preventing or curing colic are just as effective as sugar water, and the few experiments that have shown significant effects are hampered by insufficient controls and poor study design.

Myth #2: Healthy Kids Should Be On Probiotics

Preventative probiotics aren’t actually a thing, outside of bogus health-fad marketing. Healthy children should be eating healthy and, if they’re eating right, they are already getting all of the nutrients and good bacteria that they need from a normal diet (including yogurt, which indeed contains probiotics). It is the official position of the American Academy of Pediatrics that parents should not give healthy children supplemental probiotics.

Myth #3: Probiotics Only Help You Poop Better

Good gut bacteria do not exist solely to help stars like Jamie Lee Curtis poop better. One recent study found that babies with diverse gut flora had higher cognitive scores, and another study found that children aged 18 to 27 months with a genetically-diverse microbiomes were more likely to be extroverted, sociable and curious. This may be because the microbes in our innards give as much as they take, often secreting chemicals known to regulate mood, such as serotonin and dopamine. Again, this doesn’t mean kids need supplemental probiotics. But letting your kids replenish their microbiomes with some outdoor play never hurts.

Myth #4: Yogurt is the Answer to Good Gut Health in Kids

The go-to for parents who want to get good gut bugs into their kids is usually yogurt. That makes sense considering yogurt is made by adding a culture of Lactobacillus bulgaricus, which gives yogurt it’s special tangy goodness. But that doesn’t mean store-bought yogurts are the best bet—because any good from the probiotics can be easily offset by the huge amount of added sugar. The health risks of the additional calories leading to obesity are far greater than the probiotic benefit. For that reason, many doctors suggest steering kids toward cultured yogurt drinks like Kefir or making their own Greek-style yogurt at home.

Myth #5: Unhealthy Kids Should Not Be On Probiotics

We’re pretty down on probiotics, but don’t let our skepticism fool you—there are a bunch of cases in which probiotics can be incredibly helpful. Doctors will sometimes recommend probiotics for kids who are taking antibiotics, to counterbalance the loss of good bacteria in the gut. And robust studies suggest that probiotics may help with diarrhea and shorten the symptoms of a stomach bug. So trust your doctor on this one. If a medical professional suggests you try probiotics to treat a specific ailment, stock up accordingly.