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Probiotics Won't Make Your Child's Stomach Pain Feel Better
  • If you turn to probiotic drinks or yogurt for your child's “stomach flu,” a recent study shows it doesn't really do much to relieve his condition.

    Researchers studied 971 children 3 months to 4 years old who went to the emergency room with symptoms of stomach flu or gastroenteritis including nausea, vomiting, watery diarrhea and dehydration, stomach pain, and cramps. They were divided into two groups to go through a five-day course. One group had a commonly studied probiotic, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, while the other group was given a placebo.

    Researchers tracked the duration and severity of symptoms for two weeks. The kids’ vomiting and diarrhea steadily declined at the same rate in both groups until almost all had recovered.

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    “We tested many different scenarios — infants compared with toddlers, whether the patient had taken antibiotics, whether the gastroenteritis was caused by virus or bacteria, and how long diarrhea had been going on before the treatment was given. We also had the probiotic independently tested for purity and strength,” said Dr. David Schnadower, the study’s lead author and a professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, in a statement. “Every time, we reached the same conclusion: [the probiotics] did not help.”

    The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, had similar results to a clinical trial conducted in Canada but with a different probiotic. It was also published in the same journal.

    According to WebMD, the first thing to do to combat symptoms of gastroenteritis is to prevent dehydration. Give the child an oral rehydration solution, and then drink fluids slowly in frequent, small amounts. A visit to the doctor is needed when vomiting in a child age 2 or older last more than a day or fever or severe diarrhea lasts more than two days.

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    Children under age 2 need to see a doctor if vomiting or diarrhea lasts for more than 12 hours or has a fever with the other two symptoms. Seek medical help immediately if the vomit or stool turns bloody or tarry.

    There is no specific cure for pediatric acute gastroenteritis other than giving children fluid to prevent dehydration and in some cases, medication to relieve nausea. Those who turn to probiotics may be disappointed by this lack of options. Small studies in the past have buoyed the probiotics as a "solution" because it showed it can provide relief and even shorten the duration of digestive problems. This study now refutes the past research.

    “Probiotics had no effect on the children. Parents are better off saving their money and using it to buy more fresh fruits and vegetables for their children,” said Dr. Phillip Tarr, a co-author of the study and director of the pediatric division of gastroenterology, hepatology, nutrition at Washington University School of Medicine.

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    If it gives you comfort, you can still give probiotic drinks to your kids, as they are still considered safe for consumption. But use probiotics, which are helpful bacteria that live in the colon, to help regulate and maintain healthy digestion — don't see it as a treatment.

    Be careful of manufacturers that offer probiotics as dietary supplements — it is not regulated as prescription and over-the-counter drugs. “Also, manufacturers of probiotics generally can claim that these microorganisms have positive health benefits without rigorous evidence to support their use,” said Dr. Schnadower.

    Before giving any probiotics to your kids to treat a medical condition, it is important that you talk with your doctor first. Most importantly, weigh your options. “In this instance, probiotics added no measurable benefit, and therefore, they are not worth the added cost,” said Dr. Schnadower.

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