By Christine Matheson, ND –
This is an actual question that a senior patient of mine asked me several years ago. We all know Snuffaluffagus as a character on the famous children’s television show Sesame Street. It took me a second to grasp what my patient meant but as I reviewed her file I quickly realized she was referring to the probiotic supplement I had prescribed for her containing the “friendly” bacteria called acidophilus and bifidus!! We both had a good laugh but I have never forgotten it because upon deeper thought it became a useful way to teach my pediatric patients about the benefits of these “friendly” bacteria.
Like Snuffaluffagus, who is a friend that Big Bird loves but others rarely get a chance to even see, the “friendly” bacteria in our bodies could be considered an invisible superfriend that plays an extremely valuable role in keeping us well. Our bodies naturally produce strains of bacteria that are “friendly” because they help us absorb nutrients, inhibit allergies and inflammation and protect us from infections. This “friendly” bacteria coats the internal lining of the mucous membranes of our bodies, particularly the digestive system, and are critical for our digestive and immune systems to function optimally.
Infants form a type of “friendly” bacteria that is different than adults. As a child grows and their digestive system develops this “friendly” bacteria eventually consists of the adult type of “friendly” bacteria. Since a child’s immune and digestive systems take years to develop fully, children’s digestive systems are more fragile and can therefore benefit greatly from natural strategies to improve their levels of “friendly” bacteria. In addition, “friendly” bacteria levels are adversely affected by antibiotics and many other medications as well as poor dietary habits.
Though it is usually unnecessary to consider prescribing many natural supplements for young children, the one exception that many naturopathic doctors advise parents to consider is a probiotic supplement because it is a source of “friendly” bacteria. Since our bodies produce a variety of strains of “friendly” bacteria each in specific areas of the mucosal lining, higher quality probiotic supplements usually provide a variety of strains for greater benefit. For instance, acidophilus largely populates the upper digestive system while bifidus populates the lower digestive tract.
A naturopathic doctor can advise you on age- specific formulas and accurate dosage based on your child’s needs, in addition to helping you navigate the range of brands available. For example, some probiotics contain dairy but dairy-free sources are also widely available. It is particularly important to consider rebalancing “friendly” bacteria levels with a probiotic supplement post antibiotic use. The good news for parents is most probiotic supplements taste pretty yummy therefore most kids are happy to take it and powder forms are easy to mix into foods.
While kids can certainly benefit from taking probiotic supplements, there is no doubt that most adults can benefit too. Every parent of young children certainly needs that extra layer of protection to give their immune systems support while they are exposed to the many coughs, colds and stomach flus their children come home with from school. It is also important to note that a range of medications beyond antibiotics, including for instance oral contraceptives, can disrupt the fine balance of “friendly” bacteria. So to use the Snuffaluffagus analogy, we all need to protect our inner superfriends and with the foundation of a healthy diet, you may want to consider probiotic supplements to keep your family well.