When Can Probiotics Help?

Medically Reviewed by David Kiefer, MD on December 14, 2015
3 min read

As probiotics have become more popular, researchers continue to study these "good" bacteria. Results show they can help with digestive problems as well as other health problems that range from eczema to children's colds.

These natural microbes can be found in foods like yogurt as well as supplements that come in pills, capsules, powders, and liquids. Choosing which supplement to buy is important. They carry different strains of bacteria, and each is thought to have different effects on your health.

In 2008, an expert panel at Yale University reviewed research and graded various strains of probiotics for how well they work against certain health problems. They added to their findings in 2012. These are some of the conditions that scored the highest for treatment with probiotics.

Researchers found that probiotics can shorten diarrhea attacks in children. But they don't seem to work as well to prevent it. For childhood diarrhea, Saccharomyces boulardii, Lactobacillus GG, Lactobacillus reuteri, Lactobacillus casei, or Lactobacillus rhamnosus may be helpful. Bifidobacterium bifidum combined with Streptococcus thermophilus can help keep kids safe from diarrhea caused by rotavirus.

Sometimes taking antibiotics can trigger diarrhea. That's because these strong drugs can kill "good" bacteria while they target the bad. Probiotics can help prevent this type of diarrhea in both adults and children.

If you have surgery for ulcerative colitis, the surgeon will sometimes create a pouch after most of your colon is removed. Sometimes its lining can get irritated and inflamed. This is called pouchitis. Studies show that probiotics can help prevent this it, but they aren't as helpful to treat it once it already starts.

Probiotics may help prevent flares of ulcerative colitis. But researchers don't think they can do much to treat an attack.

If your child has an allergic skin reaction to cow's milk, probiotics may help. Try Lactobacillus GG,Lactobacillus rhamnosus, or Bifidobacterium lactis for atopic eczema. If eczema runs in your family, taking probiotics during pregnancy may keep your newborn from getting it.

People with IBS may have diarrhea, constipation, or both. Bifidobacterium infantis, Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Saccharomyces boulardii, or a combination of probiotics may help regulate bowel movements and ease bloating.

Premature babies are at risk for this serious disease. Tissue in the intestines starts to die. The intestines get inflamed and a hole can form. Recent studies show that using Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG with the supplement bovine lactoferrin can help keep it under control. Bifidobacterium infantis combined with Lactobacillus acidophilus may also help stave off this problem in sick newborns.

Researchers have found other ways these good bacteria might keep people healthy. Probiotics may also help these conditions: