Probitoic Supplements For Anxiety and ADHD in Kids
Probiotics are encapsulated yeasts and bacteria.
There is robust research showing that the microbes in the gut have a strong impact on mood, thoughts, and feelings so using probiotics with kids who have diagnoses like ADHD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Depression, or Oppositional Defiance Disorder is promising.
Food sources of the microbes you'll find in probiotic supplements are fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, kombucha, pickles, and kefir. Fermented food will give you more of a variety of microbes than any supplement can, but they will predominantly be Lactobacillus and Bifido strains, along with some yeasts.
Since getting those foods into kids can be a struggle, probiotic supplements can be a good starting point for shifting the gut microbiome. There's a lot of confusion about which ones to pick, so this article will clear up that confusion and help you decide what's worth it.
Why Probiotic Supplements Can Help With Anxiety and ADHD
Well, there are more than 20 trillion species of microbe in the average human digestive tract and their impact on health is profound. So there are a lot of reasons why they matter.
When it comes to mood, behavior and learning in kids, here are the top two ways probiotic supplements have an impact...
Some of our microbes are responsible for making neurotransmitters like GABA, Serotonin, and Dopamine. These are chemicals that influence how we think and feel. In fact, 90% of our serotonin is created in the gut as is 50% of our dopamine (and much of our GABA).
If they don't have the right balance of microbes, a child can end up lacking in these chemicals and, depending on which ones are lacking, this could contribute to symptoms like lack of motivation or focus, depressed mood, irritability, agitation, and so forth.
L. Rhamnosis, for example, is a probiotic strain that has been studied for its effect on ADHD by improving GABA levels.
2) Digestive Capacity
An imbalanced microbial ecosystem very often leads to poor digestive capacity. If a child isn't digesting their food well, they can't extract the nutrients they need for their body to function well. Also, the doors are open for things like yeasts, parasites, and infections to derail their nourishment and contribute to their discomfort.
A disrupted microbiome is one way a child can become well fed but malnourished.
So there is no doubt that if you're looking for contributors to symptoms relating to mood, behavior, and cognitive function it's very much worth assessing stressors in the gut that could be interfering with a) microbes associated with the creation and transport of neurotransmitters, and b) digestive capacity.
Types Of Probiotic Supplements
When you go to the store you'll find these three main types of probiotic supplements:
1. LactoBacillus & Bifido strains
You'll likely find these in the fridge section of the store. There are many different strains and some, not all, have been well researched.
These supplements contain living organisms and you can get them in capsules and in powders. They lose their strength when exposed to heat (which is why they're in the fridge, and is also why if you're ordering them online they MUST BE delivered quickly and with an icepack).
There is some controversy as to whether these strains actually make it through the digestive system or whether they are killed by stomach acid. There is some evidence that even if they do die, their debris could be causing some positive effects, but at this point it seems unlikely that these types of bacteria, when taken as a supplement, actually colonize in the gut and create lasting change there.
2. Soil Based Organisms (SBOs)
These are typically shelf-stable capsules filled with microorganisms found in soil.
I find it plausible that they could help our health, given that we know that kids who have exposure to the outdoors and dirt tend to have stronger immune systems, but clinically I have not seen very good results nor have I seen very good research as to their effectiveness. So I rarely suggest this type of probiotic supplement (though I DO encourage you to get your kids outside and stop worrying so much about dirt and mud).
3. Spore Probiotics
These have become my go-to probiotic supplement when we want to alter the state of a dis-regulated microbiome in an effort to improve immune, metabolic or inflammatory problems.
The capsules contain bacteria that have been shocked back into their spore form making them 100% able to survive the stomach and also making them shelf-stable. They can also be opened and mixed into food.
Spores don't fully 'wake up' and function until they get to the upper part of the large intestine, so they are generally well tolerated even if there is Bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine.
Spores have been shown to effectively colonize in the gut, increase microbial diversity, and crowd out unwanted pathogens. They can also modulate and support the immune system, reduce intestinal inflammation, and promote healing in the gut lining.
Spores have been studied for and used to help improve insulin sensitivity, help the body shed accumulated fat, improve satiety, and increase energy.
Cautions About Probiotic Supplements For Your Kids
It's hard to know which probiotic supplement is a good fit without doing a stool analysis. A comprehensive analysis will tell you which microbes are lacking and which are robust so you can decide which supplements to pick.
But that doesn't mean you can't do some experiments.
If you're going to experiment with a probiotic supplement I suggest moving very slowly and watching your child’s reaction closely. I have seen some very strong reactions in mood, sleep, skin and bowel function when probiotics are started.
Also remember that probiotics are not the only part of a healthy gut ecosystem.
Just as mono-cropping plants doesn’t improve soil health, so it is with probiotic supplements. They can be helpful, but switch them up to include different varieties. Also consider other factors involved in digestive health like nutrition, stress, sleep, chemicals, and movement.
What About Prebiotics?
Many probiotic supplements contain fiber like Inulin or Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS). These types of fiber are called Prebiotic because they feed the probiotics to keep them healthy and thriving.
While prebiotic fiber is essential to digestive health, I suggest you initially choose a probiotic formula that does not contain it as it can cause increased symptoms of gas, bloat, and behavior issues to flair.
Once digestive resilience has improved you could consider adding it in.
If probiotics cause irritability, gas, constipation, bloat or belly distention or a worsening of behavior consult a practitioner.
The Bottom Line
Probiotics can be a part of your plan to ease your child's anxiety, ADHD, and anger by helping you create shifts in their microbiome, but they're not a panacea.
When you shift the microbiome, you shift messages in the body and a child can become more calm and focused. The gut and the brain are very much connected so even if there are no overt signs of digestive distress (like constipation or pain) there are still likely to be factors in the digestive system that are causing stress.
When I look at comprehensive stool tests in kids with anxiety, ADHD, and conduct disorders, I almost always see significant imbalances. Most commonly I will see insufficiencies in protective species like Akkermansia and Lactobacillus, coupled with overgrowth in opportunistic species like Staphylococcus aureus, Candida Albicans, Streptococcus, and the Methanobacteriaceae family. It's also common to see signs of digestive insufficiency like low elastase indicating poor enzymatic activity, or high Steatocrit indicating poor fat digestion.
Getting a stool analysis is a great way to assess the microbiome and digestive capacity. But if you want to do some experiments with probiotic supplements, my top picks are the spore-based ones. Just remember that probiotics are only one part of supporting gut health. Making sure your child eats the right foods for them and reducing environmental stress is also really important.