What are probiotics?
Probiotics are foods or supplements that contain live microorganisms (e.g., bacteria). Foods with labels that say "live and active cultures" contain probiotics. Yogurt and fermented foods are two examples. There are many types of probiotic supplements with different types and amounts of microorganisms.
Probiotics are often consumed to support gut or gastrointestinal health. They have been shown to be safe but their effect on users can vary. Much has been written about probiotics, including this article from the NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, this article from Advocate Aurora Health, and this article from Cleveland Clinic.
Should people with Down syndrome take probiotic supplements?
The answer depends on the individual. As mentioned above, probiotics can have different effects depending on the individual. Some individuals who take probiotic supplements experience relief from constipation or diarrhea. Other individuals who take probiotic supplements may experience worsening bowel issues. The approach we typically take at the Adult Down Syndrome Center is:
- If an individual has "normal bowels" and is not experiencing gastrointestinal issues, we do not recommend adding probiotics.
- If an individual is experiencing gastrointestinal issues such as constipation, we may recommend that they try a probiotic supplement.
- If an individual needs to take an antibiotic medication, we may recommend starting a probiotic supplement.
- Antibiotics are taken to fight an infection caused by microorganisms such as bacteria. In addition to killing the "bad" bacteria, they may kill good bacteria that is found naturally in our bodies. It is thought that probiotics may help to replenish the good bacteria in our bodies.
We are not aware of any studies that have looked at probiotic supplements in individuals with Down syndrome. In our experience, people with Down syndrome have reacted similarly to people without Down syndrome - some benefit while others do not. It is important to discuss use of probiotic supplements with your health care provider before starting to take them.
Additional resources can be found in the Gastroenterology section of our Resource Library.