Probiotics may help prevent diarrhea, study finds

According to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, probiotics have “shown promise” in prevention and treatment of antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD).

The study, reported in national news outlets over the last few hours, states that:

Probiotics reduced the risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhea by 42% … Diarrhea is more common with certain antibiotics, particularly at high doses needed to treat serious infections.

The meta-analysis of 82 such studies shows great potential for the use of probiotics in restoring digestive balance following antibiotic treatment. Some lactic acid bacteria can help alleviate inflammation, therefore preventing intestinal disorders, and other evidence from recent scientific studies has demonstrated that some bacterial strains actually have a probiotic effect and thus may even aid in the prevention of disease.

Antimicrobial drugs—antibiotics—are a great asset in treating bacterial diseases, but overuse of antibiotics can result in the development of various gastrointenstinal disorders as a result of their powerful and indiscriminate nature—simply put, antibiotics wipe out all bacteria, good and bad, with some unfortunate side effects. In the studies analyzed, researchers were looking specifically for the effectiveness of probiotic bacteria in treating antibiotic associated diarrhea (AAD).

The majority of the clinical trials used Lactobacillus-based interventions alone or in combination with other strains, although overall the specific combinations used were not documented in sufficient clinical detail. Of all included trials, 63 reported the number of participants with specific gastrointestinal disorders such as diarrhea and the number of participants randomized to both treatment groups.

Across 63 studies and a total of some 11,811 participants, the use of probiotic bacteria was associated with a 42 percent lower risk of developing diarrhea compared with control groups. This result was consistent across a number of subgroups within these studies:

In summary, our review found sufficient evidence to conclude that adjunct probiotic administration is associated with a reduced risk of AAD. This generalized conclusion likely obscures heterogeneity in effectiveness among the patients, the antibiotics, and the probiotic strains or blends. Future studies should assess these factors and explicitly assess the possibility of adverse events to better refine our understanding of the use of probiotics to prevent AAD.

Clearly more research will be required to refine any future treatment approaches. For the moment, however, it appears that the protective and restorative effects of these beneficial bacteria are apparent. The use of probiotic bacteria has become increasingly popular for improved nutrient absorption, facilitating healthy digestion and even weight loss. There is now potential for their use in the clinical environment, as well.

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