When Can Probiotics Help?

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on August 07, 2022
3 min read

As probiotics become more popular, researchers are looking for new ways they may help you. Studies show they can be useful for digestive trouble and other problems that range from eczema to children's colds.

Probiotics, sometimes called "good bacteria," can be found in foods like yogurt as well as supplements that come in pills, capsules, powders, and liquids. Probiotic supplements carry different strains of bacteria and sometimes yeast, and each type may 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. It added to the findings in 2012 and 2015. Some of the conditions that scored the highest for treatment with probiotics are:

Researchers found that probiotics can shorten diarrhea attacks in children. For viral diarrhea in kids, you may find these types helpful:

  • Lactobacillus casei
  • Lactobacillus GG (LGG)
  • Lactobacillus reuteri
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus
  • Saccharomyces boulardii

Bifidobacterium bifidum combined with Streptococcus thermophilus can help keep kids safe from diarrhea caused by rotavirus.

Diarrhea is sometimes a side effect of antibiotics. That's because these drugs target all bacteria, good and bad. Probiotics can help prevent this type of diarrhea in both adults and children.

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, you may be able to keep your newborn from getting it if you take probiotics when you're pregnant.

If you have surgery for ulcerative colitis, your surgeon may create a pouch after they remove most of your colon. Sometimes its lining can get irritated and inflamed. This is called pouchitis. If it becomes a long-term problem, you may need treatment with antibiotics. Studies show that probiotics may help prevent repeat episodes of pouchitis. 

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

If you have IBS, you may have diarrhea, constipation, or both. To get relief from bloating or get regular bowel movements again, you may try types of probiotics such as:

  • Bifidobacterium infantis
  • Bifidobacterium lactis
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus
  • Lactobacillus plantarum
  • Saccharomyces boulardii

Sometimes a combination of types will do the trick.

Research is still early, but it looks as though probiotics can help alcoholic liver failure and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, even in children. The helpful strains are:

Alcoholic liver disease: Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium longum with oligosaccharide,  Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, LGG, and VSL#3.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium longum, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Lactobacillus delbrueckii, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus rhamnosus,Streptococcus thermophiles, and VSL#3.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in children: LGG and VSL#3.

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. 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 bacteria might keep people healthy. Probiotics may also help these conditions:

  • Children's colds
  • Urinary tract and vaginal health
  • Allergies and asthma
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Childhood stomach and lung infections
  • Mouth health
  • Inflammatory arthritis
  • Traveler's diarrhea