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Do Probiotics Relieve Constipation in Children?

Although Some Adults Found Relief by Taking Probiotics, the 'Friendly' Bacteria Have No Benefit for Children With Constipation, Researchers Say
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

May 23, 2011 -- Researchers in Europe say a fermented dairy product containing a specific bacterium known as a probiotic did not relieve constipation in children more than a dairy product without a probiotic.

The finding is significant, the researchers say, because probiotics have helped some adults with constipation.

It seemed logical that probiotics, live microorganisms that are often called “friendly” or “good” bacteria, might work for children. But in a new study the kids who consumed the fermented dairy product did no better, based on number of stools produced, than youngsters in a comparison group.

The study examined 159 children with constipation for at least two months with a defecation rate of less than three times per week. About half were given the probiotic product twice daily for three weeks; children in the comparison group were given a dairy product without the probiotic.

Study Results

In the study, the fermented dairy product that contained B lactis strain DN-173 010 increased stool frequency, but not significantly more than the dairy product without a probiotic given to the comparison group, according to researchers in the Netherlands and Poland. Even though it is common practice to give probiotics to children to help them with constipation problems, study researcher Merit M. Tabbers, MD, PhD, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Emma’s Children’s Hospital Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, tells WebMD that there is not yet enough evidence to “support a general recommendation about the use of probiotics in the treatment of functional childhood constipation.”

But because constipation is a common problem in young children, more research is in the works.

“Probiotics are indeed also given in the Netherlands and elsewhere by caregivers because constipation is in the majority of patients difficult to treat and a long-lasting problem,” Tabbers tells WebMD via email. “Approximately 50% of all children followed for six to 12 months are found to recover and were successfully taken off laxatives.”

Probiotics in Adults

Tabbers says a study in another hospital “even showed that despite intensive medical and behavioral therapy, 30% of patients who developed constipation before the age of 5 years continued to have severe complaints of constipation; infrequent, painful defecation; andfecal incontinence beyond puberty.”

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