Probiotics provide no relief to children with stomach virus

Probiotics Useless
Photo: Marco Verch

Two studies conducted in Canada and U.S. cast shadow on the effectiveness of popular products

Double Barrel x Yakult

Children with stomach viruses or gastroenteritis are often given probiotics to get relief from vomiting and diarrhoea. But two recent studies indicate that using probiotics for this purpose is a waste of money.

The first study was conducted in Canada and the second in the United States, covering about 1,900 children between the ages of three months to four years old. They were diagnosed with acute gastroenteritis in a hospital emergency room. The condition is characterized by diarrhoea and vomiting.

The US study used a commercially available probiotic that claims to treat digestive health. It contains Lactobacillus rhamnosus. The Canadian study used a combination of L. rhamnosus plus L. helveticus. In both studies, half of the children received a probiotic and the other half got a placebo for five days.

A similar study in Canada, also published in The New England Journal of Medicine, evaluated effectiveness of a different probiotic — Lacidofil —  in children with gastroenteritis. The findings of that study, led by the University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine in Alberta, mirrored those in the U.S. study.

Regardless of whether the children took a placebo or probiotic, their symptoms and recovery were nearly identical. The data showed that diarrhoea in both groups of kids lasted about two days and the kids missed an average of two days of day care.

These studies provides evidence against the popular and expensive use of probiotics — which contain live microorganisms, believed to restore the balance of intestinal bacteria and boost the immune system.

The researchers said the results indicate that probiotics have no effect on improving gastroenteritis symptoms in infants. In most cases, gastroenteritis runs its course and in a few days and clears up on its own.