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Probiotic Drops Might Ease Colic: Study

But more research is needed to assess any other effects on newborns, experts say

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Steven Reinberg

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Jan. 13, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Infants given probiotics during the first three months of life appear to have fewer bouts of colic, acid reflux and constipation, according to Italian researchers.

Colic -- excessive crying that is unrelated to a medical problem -- is the cause of as many as one in five visits to pediatricians, the researchers said. It is also a source of anxiety and stress for parents.

"In Europe, probiotics are widely used to treat colic," said the study's lead author, Dr. Flavia Indrio, of the department of pediatrics at Aldo Moro University of Bari.

Probiotics are friendly, live bacteria that help maintain a natural balance of organisms in the intestines, Indrio said. To see if probiotics could prevent colic and other gastrointestinal distress, the researchers gave more than 500 newborns either probiotic drops or a placebo.

The results, which were published online Jan. 13 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, showed that, over three months, the babies who got the probiotics had significantly shorter crying spells and less stomach upset than the babies given the placebo.

"Parents need to be informed that probiotics possibly cure and prevent colic," Indrio said. "This is something I use routinely in my practice to treat colic."

However, although the treatment caused no apparent harm or side effects, Indrio said these findings need to be replicated before this becomes standard care in the United States. The study showed an association between probiotic use and decreased colic, but it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

Colic, acid reflux and constipation are the most common gastrointestinal problems infants suffer. They often result in hospitalizations, feeding changes, drugs and loss of working days for parents, the researchers said.

Normally, the intestines have about 400 types of probiotic bacteria that serve to reduce harmful bacteria and keep the digestive system healthy. One of the most common probiotic bacteria is Lactobacillus, which is found in yogurt and was the bacteria given to infants in this study.

The report was funded by BioGaia AB, Sweden, which makes the probiotic drops used in the study.

Another expert agreed that more research is needed before doctors can embrace the results.

"There is going to be a day -- and it may be soon -- when your pediatrician will give five probiotics a day to prevent your baby from getting colic," said Dr. Bruno Chumpitazi, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

"But even though [this study is] encouraging, there is still a lot of work to be done," said Chumpitazi, the co-author of an accompanying journal editorial. "We don't know how the probiotic works, and we don't know the long-term effects of doing this."

Chumpitazi said colic and associated gastrointestinal problems usually clear up by themselves. However, there might be some long-term effects from colic, he said.

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