Probiotics No Help in Childhood Eczema
Good Bacteria Found in Foods Do Not Reduce Eczema Symptoms, Review Shows
Oct. 10, 2008 -- New research shows that the use of probiotics to treat eczema in children is not
effective and may carry a risk of bowel damage and infection.
Probiotics are naturally occurring microorganisms. In most cases they are
bacteria and are similar to the friendly bacteria found in the gut or skin. Lactobacillus and bifidobacterium are common
probiotics that are found in many foods such as yogurt, unpasteurized milk,
fermented soy and yeast, and infant formula.
People with eczema have what is believed to be a disorder of cells of the
immune system. Probiotics have been used as a treatment for eczema in children.
But a Cochrane Collaboration review of 12 studies involving 781 children
concluded that there is no evidence that probiotics in supplement form reduce
the symptoms of eczema or change its severity.
Probiotics for Eczema
The 12 studies were conducted between 2003 and 2008. The children ranged in
age from 1 month to 13 years, but most of them were under 18 months old and
appeared to have an allergy to cow's milk. The probiotic strain used most
commonly in the studies was Lactobacillusrhamnosus, either alone or in
combination with other probiotic bacteria.
The trials did not note any negative reaction to probiotics, but when
Cochrane researchers dragged a net through a wider pool of studies, they found
46 cases in which probiotics were implicated in infection, bowel tissue damage,
and even death, says Robert Boyle, MD, the lead researcher in the review.
Boyle is an allergist who teaches medicine at Imperial College in London.
The bowel damage and fatalities occurred in patients with severe pancreatitis, he says.
"A wider trawl of literature showed that although probiotics are
recognized as a safe treatment in otherwise healthy people, in people who are
severely unwell, there is a significant risk in using probiotics," he
Boyle says he also wouldn't recommend giving infants probiotics, even if the
infant is healthy. And he would not advise anyone with eczema to use probiotics
because, he says, there are more effective treatments.
Eczema Common Worldwide
Eczema is characterized by dry, red, and itchy patches on the skin. The
chronic, non-contagious condition affects 5%-20% of the world's population but
is especially common in children, more than half of whom will outgrow it.
The American Academy of Dermatology says eczema may be an abnormal response
of the body's immune system to allergens like animal dander and dust mites.
There is no cure, but moisturizers are generally recommended, along with
topical corticosteroids. In some cases, doctors recommend an antihistamine to reduce itching.
Probiotic supplements seem to reduce diarrhea and bloating in kids who have been treated with
antibiotics, and they are marketed as such, but in her experience, they don't
have a noticeable effect on eczema, says Nanette Silverberg, MD, director of
pediatric and adolescent dermatology at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in
New York City.