When Can Probiotics Help?
Probiotics to Ease Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which afflicts an estimated 58 million Americans, can cause bloating, cramps, and diarrhea. The underlying cause is not well understood. Some preliminary findings suggest the probiotics may help ease symptoms, although there are negative studies as well.
A 2010 study of children and teenagers found that the combination of eight probiotic organisms called VSL#3 significantly reduced symptoms of IBS.
Organisms that may be helpful:Bifidobacterium infantis, VSL#3
Probiotics for Ulcerative Colitis
In its 2008 recommendations, the Yale University panel found little convincing evidence that probiotics helped treat the inflammatory bowel disease ulcerative colitis.
Some recent findings are more promising. In 2010, researchers from China Medical University in Taiwan reviewed 13 trials. They concluded that probiotics were more effective than placebos in warding off flare-ups of ulcerative colitis.
Organisms that may be helpful: Bifidobacterium longum, VSL#3
Probiotics Help Fight Common Childhood Infections
By enhancing immune function, probiotics may help ward off childhood illnesses such as ear infections, colds, and infectious diarrhea. The Yale University panel gave a grade of “A” to evidence that probiotics improve immunity.
A Georgetown University study published in 2010 found that children who drank a yogurt drink containing the probiotic Lactobacillus casei were 19% less likely than those who didn’t to come down with a common infection.
Organisms that may be helpful:Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus LGG, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum, Bifidobacterium lactis, and Lactobacillus johnsonii
When Probiotics Don’t Seem to Help
Probiotics aren’t useful for all gastrointestinal complaints. There’s little strong evidence that they help treat the symptoms of Crohn’s disease, a sometimes-debilitating inflammatory bowel disease.
The Yale University review panel also found inadequate evidence that probiotics help treat vaginosis or vaginitis.
Still, only a small number of potentially beneficial organisms have been tested. Ongoing research may find additional uses for probiotics.
“We still have a lot more to learn about when and how to use probiotics,” says Stefano Guandalini, MD, professor of pediatrics and gastroenterology at the University of Chicago Medical Center. “But the use of these safe and effective therapies is likely to increase as we increase our knowledge.”