Probiotics make no difference to intestinal infections in children: studies


Calgary – Two studies released by the University of Calgary suggest that giving probiotics to children to prevent intestinal infections will not make any difference.

Dr. Stephen Freedman, from the university's Cumming School of Medicine, was a part of both projects, one in the United States and one in Canada. They analyzed the effects of administering probiotics to hundreds of children taken to emergency departments with vomiting and diarrhea.

"I thought it was really important to answer that question, as the probiotic field continues to grow and we'll probably see more and more of them," said Freedman, a pediatrician in the emergency room.

"I was hoping it would be positive, because as a doctor, as a father and mother with two children who have had vomiting and diarrhea, I would love to have a treatment option that we can provide and recommend that it be based on solid evidence.

"The evidence does not support its use."

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that claim to be good for the digestive system. They are found in supplements and some foods like yogurt.

Freedman led the three-and-a-half-year Canadian study that included nearly 900 children from six cities. He was also a co-principal investigator on a 10-city, three-year, simultaneous project led by Dr. David Schnadower in the US who studied almost a thousand young people.

The results of both studies are published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers looked at children between three months and four years suffering from gastroenteritis. Each study looked at a different variety of probiotics.

The Canadian study focused on children who had symptoms for less than 72 hours. The deadline for American children has been extended to seven days.

Some of the children received probiotics, others received a placebo.

The study found that there was no change in children with probiotics – their symptoms did not decline or recover more quickly.

"In both populations, both countries, both agents, we found no differences," said Freedman.

He did not go so far as to say that giving probiotics to children is a waste of time, but stressed that it can be expensive and suggested that it is up to parents to decide.

"They should consider the pros and cons of doing so. The good news for parents is that they are incredibly safe."


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