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Probiotics Reduce Antibiotic Diarrhea

Users Had 42% Lower Risk of Diarrhea While Taking Antibiotics
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 8, 2012 -- Diarrhea is a common side effect of antibiotic use, occurring in almost 1 in 3 people who take the drugs. But new research suggests that probiotics may help lower the risk of that unwanted side effect.

By affecting good bacteria, as well as bad, antibiotics can disrupt the delicate microbial balance in the intestines, but the live microorganisms marketed as probiotics can help restore this balance to reduce diarrhea risk, a new review of the research suggests.

Supported by a federal grant, researchers from the nonprofit research and analysis group RAND Corporation pooled the best available research on probiotics and antibiotic-associated diarrhea, including the most recent studies.

They found that in people taking antibiotics, those who used probiotics were 42% less likely to develop diarrhea.

The review appears this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Even with the latest research, the science showing that probiotic foods and supplements promote digestive health has not yet caught up to the hype, and many questions remain about their benefits, experts tell WebMD.

"The good news is that a lot of extremely high-quality research is going on now," says gastrointestinal disease researcher Eamonn Quigley, MD, of Ireland's University College Cork, who was not involved in the review.

"Up until now, most of the noise about probiotics has been generated by marketing, but it may soon be generated by the science."

Probiotics and GI Health

Found in yogurts with live bacterial cultures, as well as in other foods and dietary supplements (a list can be found below), "probiotic" products continue to multiply on the shelves of grocery stores and vitamin and supplement retailers.

Global sales of probiotic foods and supplements reached $21 billion in 2010 and were projected to reach $31 billion by 2015, according to one market analysis.

But which probiotics are best and in what quantities?

Sydne J. Newberry, PhD, of RAND's Southern California Evidence-based Practice Center, says this is not yet clear.

Studies of Commercial Products Limited

Newberry says none of the studies included in the analysis examined commercially available probiotic yogurts, and very few examined commercially marketed probiotic supplements.

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