Gut Bacteria May Be Colic Treatment

First Study Shows Promise in Study of Colicky Breastfed Babies

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on January 03, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 3, 2007-- A type of gut-friendly bacterium may help treat colic in breastfed babies, Italian researchers report.

Colicky babies cry inconsolably for no apparent reason. About 20% of all infants have colic, which, though distressing, is benign and usually ends by the time the child is 4 months old.

The cause of colic is unknown. Experts attribute the problem to any number of things, including an infant's immature digestive system, allergies, hormones in breast milk, and overfeeding.

The Italian study, conducted by doctors at the University of Turin, included 83 colicky babies who were exclusively breastfed.

Francesco Savino, MD, and colleagues randomly gave daily Lactobacillus reuteri (L. reuteri)supplements to half the babies for 28 days.

The other babies took simethicone, which helps eliminate excess gas, daily for 28 days.

L. reuteri is one of the many probiotic ("good") bacteria found in the human intestines. Savino's team tested the theory that boosting L. reuteri would cut down on colicky crying.

Curbing Colicky Crying

The babies' parents kept diaries of how long their babies cried. At the study's start, the babies cried, on average, three hours and 17 minutes a day.

After a week's treatment, average daily crying dropped to two hours and 39 minutes for babies taking L. reuteri, compared with nearly three hours for those taking simethicone.

At the study's end, average daily crying time was 51 minutes for babies taking L. reuteri vs. two hours and 25 minutes for babies taking simethicone.

Since all the babies in this study were breastfed, it's not clear if the results apply to formula-fed babies, the researchers note.

Also, Savino's team asked the babies' mothers to avoid cow's milk -- including milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter -- during the experiment. However, that dietary change, by itself, didn't seem to curb colic, the study shows.

Since this study was the first to test L. reuteri as a colic treatment, Savino and colleagues call for more research to confirm their results.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Savino, F. Pediatrics, January 2007; vol 119: pp e124-e130. WebMD Medical News: "Understanding Colic -- the Basics." WebMD Medical Reference provided in collaboration with The Cleveland Clinic: "Treating Heartburn with Over-the-Counter Medicine." News release, American Academy of Pediatrics.

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