"Mommy, my tummy hurts!" That’s a common complaint from young children, and it can mean many things - perhaps they need a toilet break, or they’re experiencing constipation or lactose intolerance. Parents quickly learn to distinguish the problem, but among young children who can’t express what’s wrong, such troubles can be very challenging to deal with.
Digestive problems are common. In a survey conducted among 120 healthcare professionals, it was found that lactose intolerance, diarrhoea and constipation were among the top five most common problems among young children.1
Fortunately, maintaining a healthy digestive system can help address these troubles.
The presence of good bacteria in the system plays an important role in the overall health of young children.2 This is why it’s important to ensure that a child’s diet includes prebiotics and probiotics.
Why we need prebiotics and probiotics
Prebiotics are the food source for the healthy bacteria in the digestive system, and numerous studies have been done on prebiotics, hence scientists are familiar with how they work as well as their benefits. Some examples of prebiotics include inulin and oligosaccharides such as galactooligosaccharides (GOS) and fructooligosaccharides (FOS); these are also found in common foods like fortified dairy products3, as well as onions, garlic, wheat, oats, bananas4, and chicory root.
In the market, there are formulated milk products for children added with prebiotics to help maintain a healthy digestive environment.5
For example, a recently-published study conducted across five countries across Europe and Asia – the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Thailand and Malaysia – showed a reduced risk of infections in young children who consumed formulated milk powder for children containing a specific blend of the prebiotics GOS and lcFOS with polyunsaturated fatty acids.6
Probiotics refer to good bacteria found in our digestive systems and other parts of our bodies; the ones most commonly known are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. They are commercially available in products like yoghurt and other forms of dairy products. Research indicates that probiotics may be helpful in reducing symptoms of certain inflammatory conditions.7
In summary, many studies have explored the benefits of prebiotics and probiotics, which work hand-in-hand as prebiotics are important in supporting the growth of probiotics. Together, they help to maintain a healthy digestive environment which is better able to withstand a variety of conditions, from acute diarrhoea to atopic dermatitis, and relieve symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.8
1An internal survey conducted among 120 HCPs in Klang Valley, Malaysia (2012).
2Gibson G and Marcel B. Dietary Modulation of the Human Colonie Microbiota: Introducing the Concept of Prebiotics. J. Nutr 125: 1401-1412, 1995. Available online at http://jn.nutrition.org/content/125/6/1401.full.pdf Last accessed 16 May 2014.
3Moshfegh AJ, Friday JE, Goldman JP, Ahuja JK (July 1999), Journal of Nutrition 1999.129 (7 Suppl): 1407S–1411S.
4Prebiotics: How to feed your family’s friendly gut flora. http://www.parentingscience.com/prebiotics.html Last accessed 13 May 2014.
5Ackerberg TS et al. The use of prebiotics and probiotics in infant formula. S Afr Fam Pract 2012;54(4):321-323. http://www.ajol.info/index.php/safp/article/viewFile/80501/70747 Last accessed 13 May 2014.
6Chatchatee P et al. Effects of Growing-Up Milk Supplemented With Prebiotics and LCPUFAs on Infections in Young Children. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition. April 2014, Vol. 58-4, 428-437. http://journals.lww.com/jpgn/Fulltext/2014/04000/Effects of Growing Up Milk Supplemented_With.11.aspx Last accessed 16 May 2014.
7Guarino A, Lo Vecchio A, and Canani RB. 2009. Probiotics as prevention and treatment for diarrhea. Current Opinion in Gastroenterology. 25(1):18-23.
8TThomas, D and Greer, F. Clinical Report – Probiotics and Prebiotics in Pediatrics. Pediatrics 2010;126;1217. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/126/6/1217.full.html Last accessed 16 May 2014.