Using Probiotics for Diarrhea

If you're looking for relief from tummy trouble, you may want to consider trying helpful bacteria and yeast called probiotics.

Millions of friendly bacteria live in your intestines, and they're important for your digestion. But diarrhea can throw the microbes in your gut off balance. Probiotics may help get things back on track.

You can find probiotics in certain foods, like yogurt, and they also come in the form of supplements. Not all probiotics can ease diarrhea, though, and some help only certain types of diarrhea. So which ones can help and when?

Kids and Diarrhea

Some of the best proof that probiotics work comes from studies of diarrhea in children, especially when it's caused by rotavirus. Probiotics might cut bouts of infectious diarrhea by half a day to about 2 days.

Some research shows that the bacteria strains most likely to help are Lactobacillus rhamnosusLactobacillus reuteri, and the probiotic yeast Saccharomyces boulardii, although other strains might be useful. A mix of a few different probiotics may also treat this type of diarrhea.

Diarrhea From Antibiotics

Antibiotics kill the bad germs in your body that make you sick, but they also kill some of the good bacteria. This can upset the normal balance in your intestines, leading to diarrhea.

Studies of children and adults show that you may cut your chances of having diarrhea if you take probiotics before and during treatment and several days after stopping your antibiotics. Saccharomyces boulardii and some strains of lactobacillus can work.

Travelers’ Diarrhea

When you're away from home, you may get diarrhea when you eat or drink contaminated food or water.

There's no hard proof that probiotics work for this problem. Some research shows they help travelers avoid this kind of diarrhea, but other studies show there isn't any benefit. The strongest evidence points to help from Saccharomyces boulardii, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Bifidobacterium bifidum.

Diarrhea Caused By C. difficile

An infection with C. difficile bacteria causes severe and sometimes life-threatening diarrhea and inflammation in the colon, called colitis. Probiotics may keep you from getting this germ. And there's some evidence they might stop the problem from coming back. That's important, since repeat infections become hard to control.

Scientists have done many studies of Saccharomyces boulardii against this type of bacteria. It appears to help, especially when combined with lactobacillus strains.

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Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Probiotics may help treat ulcerative colitis, a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Some studies show probiotics may also help treat Crohn's disease, the other form of IBD, but the results aren't as strong.

Where to Find Probiotics

Most health food stores stock dozens of brands of probiotic foods and supplements, like yogurts or dairy drinks, capsules, powders, and liquids.

Look for probiotics with a specific type of bacteria that's been tested and found to work. Make sure the product has a Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) seal. Choose products that say that they still work "through end of shelf life" rather than "at time of manufacture."

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on December 11, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Guandalini, S. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, 2011.

Guandalini, S. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, 2008.

Hickson, M. Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology, 2011.

Floch, M. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, July 2008.

McFarland, L. Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease, March 2007.

Williams, N. American Journal of Health-Systems Pharmacy, March 15, 2010.

Stefano Guandalini, professor of pediatrics and gastroenterology, University of Chicago.

Floch, M. and Walker, A. Recommendations for Probiotic Use, 2011 Update.

Natural Therapeutics Comprehensive Database.

Annals of Internal Medicine: "Probiotics for the prevention of clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea: A systematic review and meta-analysis."

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