Acute diarrhea is uncomfortable and unpleasant but often is no more than a temporary inconvenience. In most cases, the episode is due to an infection by an organism. In healthy individuals, diarrhea treatment generally consists of hydration, rest, and time. Some research has suggested that probiotics may influence the duration of diarrhea caused by infection. Probiotics are good bacteria that may help balance the environment in the intestines.
Researchers at Cochrane database reviewed several past studies to determine if probiotics had a beneficial effect in people with acute diarrhea. The study published in Cochrane Database found that probiotics may be effective in reducing the intensity and duration of infectious diarrhea.
The systematic review included 63 trials with a total of 8,014 patients with acute diarrhea suspected to be from infectious causes. In 56 of the trials, the participants were children or infants. Probiotics were associated with:
- Reduced duration of diarrhea (average of 25 fewer hours of diarrhea) in 25 trials
- Lower incidence of diarrhea lasting four days or more in 29 trials
Lactobacillus casei strain GG, Enterococcus LAB SF68 and Saccharomyces boulardii were individual probiotics that were studied and associated with fewer incidences of diarrhea lasting four days or more.
Systematic reviews are used to statistically combine data from several small studies. This allows reviewers to greatly increase the number of participants and therefore increase the reliability of results. However, results may be less reliable if the smaller studies that make up the review were of poor quality or have too many differences in treatment groups. In this case, there was a wide variance in the benefits of probiotics. This may be due to differences in severity of diarrhea, strains of probiotics, and dosages. Further research will need to be done to determine what specific strains of probiotics are most beneficial and what types of diarrhea may be most impacted by this therapy.
Probiotics appear to have some benefits, and there are no known health risks. They may be available as supplemental pills or added to food or drink. While it is hopeful that probiotics can decrease the intensity or duration of diarrhea, remember that it is still important to stay hydrated and get plenty of rest. If you are having bloody diarrhea, are dehydrated, are very ill, or the diarrhea is not going away, make sure you contact your doctor.
Allen SJ, Martinez EG, Gregorio GV, Dans LF. Probiotics for treating acute infectious diarrhoea. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2010, Issue 11.
Last reviewed January 2011 by Brian P. Randall, MD
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