While children are commonly given probiotics to lessen symptoms associated with the stomach flu, new research suggests that treatment is not effective and fails to help with the severity or duration of gastroenteritis.
In a study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, Canadian researchers indicate there is no benefit to giving children with the stomach flue twice daly doses of probiotics, finding no reduction in symptoms of diarrhea or vomiting.
Gastroenteritis accounts for 1.7 million visits to the ER by children in the United States every year. There is no effective treatment for the condition, and doctors usually focus on keeping children hydrated and trying to prevent the spread of the illness.
The study was a randomized double-blind trial of 886 children three to 48 months of age suffering from gastroenteritis, a stomach virus that causes symptoms of diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and sometimes fever.
The children were treated at one of six pediatric emergency rooms in Canada. For five days, the participants were given either a twice daily combination probiotic product containing both Lactobacillus rhamnosus and L. helveticus, or a placebo.
There were no significant differences between taking the probiotic or taking the placebo, the researchers determined. Both groups suffered similar levels of symptom severity or duration of symptoms.
Roughly, 26% of children who had moderate-to-severe gastroenteritis had symptoms that were relieved within 14 days after beginning the probiotic. Similarly, 24% of children who had moderate-to-severe gastroenteritis symptoms, like diarrhea and vomiting, improved their symptoms 14 days after beginning the placebo.
The average duration of diarrhea was about 52 hours among the probiotic group and 55 hours among the placebo group. Patients who took probiotics suffered about 17 hours of vomiting, compared to 18 hours among the placebo patients.
Furthermore, 34% of patients in the probiotic group reported experiencing an adverse event. Roughly 38% of patients in the placebo group experienced an adverse event. Roughly 30% of participants who took probiotics had to make an unscheduled visit to a doctor. Comparatively, 26% of patients who had the placebo made unscheduled visits to a doctor.
The human gut is filled with thousands of types of bacteria. Many are good bacteria that help to keep a person healthy, others can cause serious illness. Many people believe probiotics may be an effective way to treat a number of stomach issues and help the good bacteria proliferate. While probiotics may contribute to a variety of healthy bacteria in the gut, the new study indicates it does not help reduce the severity or duration of gastroenteritis symptoms.