Live Cultures for Kids: A Complete Evidence-Based Guide for Parents

Written by Angie Arriesgado
Reviewed by Lamia A Kader, MD
featured image for article on kids live cultures

In this article, we are going to discuss live cultures for kids – how they work and how to choose the best live culture sources. We’re also going to talk about your child’s immune system and digestive health. Please consider your doctor’s advice before you decide to give your kids live cultures, or any dietary supplement, for that matter. Use our article as a guide, and talk to your paediatrician before you do any action.

The beginning stages of a child’s microbiome

The gut microbiome plays a huge role in your baby’s health. Babies are born with an existing microbiome, which starts developing in the womb and is further populated during birth, breastfeeding, infancy, childhood, and beyond (1).

What is the gut microbiome?

It’s a collection of bacteria and other microorganisms that live inside the body, particularly in the digestive tract. Since about 80% of our immune system resides in the gut, it’s important to keep the microbiome healthy (2). And by healthy, we mean ‘balanced.’

You see, both good and bad bacteria coexist in the microbiome. But when the bad bacteria gain the upper hand, it can cause a lot of health problems. This is called ‘dysbiosis.’ It’s therefore in your best interest to ensure your child’s intestinal flora is healthy to strengthen his or her natural defences. 

The first 1,000 days of your baby’s life are crucial

During this time, your baby’s immune system is getting acquainted with new bacteria and viruses. Their immune system is hard at work, trying to generate antibodies to fight off various pathogens.

While moms pass on antibodies to their child in the womb and through breastmilk, this won’t protect the child for long. They will need to develop their own reliable immune system from a young age.

By giving your child live cultures and exposing them to different strains, you’re also giving them a head start on gut health. This leads to digestive advantages, robust immunity, and other health benefits (2).

Keeping your child’s microbiome healthy

In addition to immunity, the human microbiome plays a key role in nutrition, physiology, and metabolism. An imbalance in a child’s gut microbiome can increase their risk of allergies, infections, and other pediatric illnesses (3).

Additionally, it can cause gastrointestinal issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) as well as obesity and type 2 diabetes (4). 

Happy child playing with toys

Factors that contribute to an unbalanced microbiome in kids

Live cultures are literally bacteria, but the good kind. These microbes restore balance to the gut microbiome by keeping bad bacteria populations under control. In turn, they offer a number of health benefits, which we will be discussing later on in this article.  

Here are some factors that contribute to an unbalanced microbiome: 

1) Cesarian delivery of birth

Babies born vaginally tend to have similar intestinal microbiomes with mom’s vaginal microbiota. This is because mom’s healthy bacteria are transferred to the baby during vaginal delivery (3).

On the other hand, babies born via C-section do not pass through the birth canal, which means they aren’t exposed to the natural method of transferring microbes from mom to baby (3). Moreover, babies born via C-section are more prone to dysbiosis since they don’t have as diverse a microbiota as those delivered vaginally (5).

2) Antibiotics

Antibiotics are effective at treating certain infections caused by bacteria (they don’t work against viruses though). However, the problem is that they don’t discriminate between good and bad bacteria. In the case of young kids, with their still-developing immune systems, antibiotics can cause problems. Specifically, it can increase the risk for inflammatory conditions later on (6).

3) Hygiene hypothesis

Good hygiene is important. However, being ‘too clean’ may actually create an imbalance in gut microbiota. Children, especially in developed countries, live in more sanitary environments and aren’t exposed to the right types of bacteria in their early years (7).

what's the best source of live cultures for kids

What’s the best source of live cultures for kids?   

There are two easy ways to get live cultures in your child – food and supplement. While both are good sources of beneficial bacteria, there are certain advantages and disadvantages for both.

Foods rich in live cultures

Ideally, we should be getting our nutrients from natural, unprocessed foods. In this case, the best food sources of live cultures that kids would love would be fermented foods, such as:

  • cheese
  • yoghurt (make sure it says live and active bacteria on the label)
  • kefir
  • tempeh
  • pickles
  • homemade ketchup

Older kids may appreciate the taste of more exotic fermented foods like miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha.

Live culture supplements

The reality, however, is that most kids likely wouldn’t want to eat the same fermented food every single day, which is where supplements come in super handy. They come in all forms and sizes, but the best ones that kids are sure to love are gummy and chewable live culture pills.

Live culture supplements are very convenient to take. You can choose the strength (measured in CFU’s or colony-forming units) and there’s usually a variety of live culture strains to choose from. Some brands even include fibre, like our 6 Billion CFU Kid’s Live Cultures and Fibre. Supplements also last way longer than any fermented food!

Here’s a table summarising the different pros and cons of these two live culture sources:

Live cultures source Pros Cons
Food * delicious!
* more nutritious
* more filling
* with vitamins and minerals  
* unknown CFU per serving
* can go rancid pretty quickly
* picky eaters may not like the taste
Supplement * more CFU’s per capsule
* more live culture strains
* added fibre
* delayed-release capsules
* long shelf life
* affordable
* very convenient to take
* not as tasty

So, what’s the best source of live cultures for children?

Well, a mixture of food and supplement would be the best! Your child gets to eat nutritious live culture-rich food. But on days he or she wants to eat something else, a live culture supplement would be the next best thing.

are live cultures safe for infants

Are live cultures safe for infants?

Taking live cultures is generally considered safe for healthy infants. It can help prevent and treat diarrhoea (both antibiotic-associated and not). Likewise, these beneficial bacteria can also help prevent colic and other gastrointestinal problems in infants (9).

Amongst low birth weight infants, live cultures were found to be beneficial in the prevention of severe necrotizing enterocolitis, late-onset sepsis, and even mortality (10)!

Babies delivered vaginally may have a more diverse microbiota courtesy of mom, but with live cultures, cesarean babies also get to enjoy a more robust immune response (11).

Another study found that live cultures were able to protect infants against eczema and rhinoconjunctivitis for at least 2 more years after they stopped taking them, suggesting long-term protection against allergies and skin issues (12).

8 health benefits of giving live cultures to your kids 

Here’s what live culture foods and supplements can do for your child:

1)   Digestive health benefits

Live cultures help promote overall gastrointestinal health and function. Imbalance in the gut microbiota has been linked to various health issues, such as irritable bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and atopy (4).

A clinical report published in Pediatrics shows that live cultures can help healthy children with acute viral gastroenteritis and antibiotic-associated diarrhoea (13). Additionally, the strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG can help prevent nosocomial or hospital-acquired diarrhoea (14).  

For constipated children, live cultures can also help increase stool frequency (15). The strain Bifidobacterium lactis (a strain present in our Kid’s Live Cultures with Fibre supplement) was also found to have significantly reduced the frequency and duration of diarrhoea, as well as the length of hospital stay (16).

2)   Respiratory health benefits

The health benefits of live cultures for kids go beyond their digestive system. A 2015 systematic review found that live cultures were able to reduce the number of new episodes of respiratory tract infections (RTI) in children up to 10 years old (17).

Another study confirms this finding, saying that live cultures, specifically Lactobacillus, helped reduce the duration of RTI’s in children attending daycare centres (18).

Moreover, live cultures were proven to be more effective than placebo at reducing the number of cold-related school absences as well as antibiotic use in children (19).

child being carried on back

3)   Skin health benefits

Skin conditions such as eczema and atopic dermatitis are common in young children. A double-blind study conducted on children aged 1 to 18 years old showed that live cultures (two different Lactobacillus strains) helped improved atopic dermatitis symptoms. The positive effects continued even after they stopped taking live cultures (20).

4)   Fights inflammation

Many common health problems are brought about by inflammation. This includes childhood obesity, colitis, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. A 2018 study reports that live cultures may help prevent metabolic syndrome and improve overall health (21).

5)   Weight management

According to research, a healthy gut microbiome may help with your child’s weight management throughout life. Live cultures may help promote weight and height gain in undernourished children (22). It’s therefore in your child’s best interest to eat as much live culture-rich food or supplement with a high-quality brand.

6)   Supports brain development

Our gut is linked to the brain and spine via the gut-brain axis, and gut bacteria play a key role in this axis. A healthy gut microbiome is important for a healthy brain. In fact, it’s often called the “second brain.” One study showed that a multi-strain live culture administered to healthy volunteers had an influence on brain activity, especially emotional decision-making and emotional memory (23).

7)   Urinary tract health

Urinary tract infections are caused by bad bacteria. Good bacteria, aka live cultures, may help support vaginal and urinary tract health in female children by keeping good bacteria populations at optimal levels (24).

8)   Boosts overall immunity

As mentioned earlier, our gut and our immune system are closely linked due to the fact that the majority of our immune cells reside in the gut (2). By taking live cultures, your child is getting protection from various pathogens which, in turn, helps reduce the risk of various health problems, such as digestive issues, respiratory issues, and inflammation.  

There are many other health benefits associated with taking live cultures. Check out our ultimate guide to live culture supplements here.

how to choose the best kids live cultures

How to choose the best kids live cultures?

Live culture supplements can have a positive effect on your child’s health. But which supplement is right for your kid? How do you choose the right brand from all the products out there? Here are a few criteria for you to consider:

1) Patented live culture strains

The best live cultures for kids use patented strains. These have been extensively researched and have a well-documented list of health benefits. A generic or unpatented strain may do more harm than good to your child’s health.

2) Supplement strength

Live culture strength is measured in terms of CFU or colony-forming units. For kids, we recommend taking a supplement that have at least 5 Billion CFU in strength. Taking this strength every day will help restore balance to your child’s gut microbiome.

3) Fibre

When hungry, live cultures eat non-digestible fibre (or prebiotics). Supplements that combine both live cultures and fibre in one capsule help ensure the bacteria’s survival as they won’t go hungry and die off.

4) No need for refrigeration

Live culture refrigeration is commonly required in products that use low-quality strains. While ALL live culture products must be stored in a cool, dry place away from direct heat, high-quality strains DO NOT require refrigeration.  

It’s important to choose a live culture brand that uses these heat-resistant strains. The product will most likely not be refrigerated during transport from warehouse to your home. If you choose a brand that uses generic, low-quality strains, they’d end up dead well before you give them to your child!  

5) Kid-friendly flavor

Older kids may not mind a neutral-flavoured supplement, but younger kids are more likely to be choosy. It’s therefore important to choose a live culture brand that your kids will actually love. Make sure you choose a brand that uses sugar-free natural flavours, not artificial ones. Moreover, choose chewable live cultures for kids to make the experience enjoyable for them!

6) Third-party lab tested

Reputable brands will hire third-party labs to test their products. It’s important to buy from such a brand so you know their product features are exactly as advertised. Feel free to ask for one if the manufacturer doesn’t display it on their website.

So, is there a kid’s live culture brand that meets all of these criteria?

Absolutely! Meet our Intelligent Labs Kid’s Live Cultures with Fibre:

–   We use well-researched strains Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis  

Intelligent Labs Kids Live Cultures and Fibre

–   Each tablet contains a guaranteed minimum of 6 billion CFU

–   We include 2 forms of fibre – Sunfiber® and FOS – to ensure the live cultures never go hungry

–   No refrigeration needed – in addition to heat-resistant strains, we also use Active Packaging technology to ensure survival!

–   We use a natural wildberry-licious flavour for our kid’s chewable live cultures. It’s sugar-free too so no need to worry about tooth decay

–   We have 3rd party, independent, lab testing reports publically available, showing the strength and purity of our product

Who shouldn’t take live cultures?

Live cultures shouldn’t be given to infants and kids who are immunocompromised, seriously or chronically ill (4). Even with healthy individuals, always seek medical advice from a doctor before giving your kids any live cultures.

When is the best time to give live cultures to kids?

You can give live cultures at any time, however, we generally recommend taking them with a meal, such as breakfast. Food will lower the stomach’s acidity which is beneficial for the bacteria. Our live culture strains are chosen for their heat, stomach acid, and bile-resistant properties, but every little bit helps.

Any side effects to watch out for?

During the first few days, expect a little gas, bloating, or even diarrhoea. This is the body’s natural response to more bacteria being introduced in the gut and the microbiome is rebalancing itself. These are actually signs that the live cultures are working!  


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