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When Can Probiotics Help?

By Mary Jo DiLonardo
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by David Kiefer, MD

As probiotics have become more popular, researchers continue to study these "good" bacteria. Results show they can help with digestive problems as well as other health problems that range from eczema to children's colds.

These natural microbes can be found in foods like yogurt as well as supplements that come in pills, capsules, powders, and liquids. Choosing which supplement to buy is important. They carry different strains of bacteria, and each is thought to have different effects on your health. 

Recommended Related to Digestive Disorders

Ruptured Spleen

The spleen is a delicate, fist-sized organ under your left rib cage near your stomach. It contains special white blood cells that destroy bacteria and help your body fight infections. The spleen also makes red blood cells and helps remove, or filter, old ones from the body's circulation. A layer of tissue entirely covers the spleen in a capsule-like fashion, except where veins and arteries enter the organ. This tissue, called the splenic capsule, helps protect the spleen from direct injury.

Read the Ruptured Spleen article > >

In 2008, an expert panel at Yale University reviewed research and graded various strains of probiotics for their how well they work against certain health problems. They added to their findings in 2012. These are some of the conditions that scored the highest for treatment with probiotics.

Childhood Diarrhea

Researchers found that probiotics can shorten diarrhea attacks in children. But they don't seem to work as well to prevent it. For childhood diarrhea, Saccharomyces boulardii, Lactobacillus GG, Lactobacillus reuteri, Lactobacillus casei, orLactobacillus rhamnosus may be helpful. Bifidobacterium bifidum combined with Streptococcus thermophilus can help keep kids safe from diarrhea caused by rotavirus.

Diarrhea From Antibiotics

Sometimes taking antibiotics can trigger diarrhea. That's because these strong drugs can kill "good" bacteria while they target the bad. Probiotics can help prevent this type of diarrhea in both adults and children.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Pouchitis and Ulcerative Colitis)

If you have surgery for ulcerative colitis, the doctor will form a pouch after most of your colon is removed. Sometimes its lining can get irritated and inflamed -- this is called pouchitis. Studies show that probiotics can help prevent this it, but they aren't as helpful to treat it once it already starts.

Probiotics may help prevent flares of ulcerative colitis. But researchers don't think they can do much to help treat an attack.

Eczema

If your child has an allergic skin reaction to cow's milk, probiotics may help. Try Lactobacillus GG,Lactobacillus rhamnosus, or Bifidobacterium lactis for atopic eczema. If eczema runs in your family, taking probiotics during pregnancy may keep your newborn from getting it.

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