New study reveals probiotics do not help children with intestinal infections

November 21, 2018

Probiotics are a multibillion-dollar industry with marketing claims of being an effective treatment for a multitude of ailments, including diarrhea. However, findings from a new study from the University of Calgary show the popular product has no effect on gastroenteritis, commonly yet erroneously called the stomach flu, in children.

"We studied the effects of giving probiotics to hundreds of children whose parents brought them into emergency departments across the country suffering from vomiting and diarrhea," says Dr. Stephen Freedman, MD, pediatric emergency medicine physician with Alberta Health Services, holder of the Alberta Children's Hospital Foundation Professorship in Child Health & Wellness and member of Cumming School of Medicine's Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute. "We found no evidence that probiotics had any effect on reducing symptoms, or helping with recovery."

Freedman led a six-site Canadian study that included almost 900 children. He was also the co-principal investigator on a 10-site, concurrently conducted study in the United States, led by Dr. David Schnadower, MD that recruited almost 1,000 children. Findings from both studies will be published in the New England Journal of Medicine Thursday, November 22.

"There were smaller trials that had shown promising results. We wanted to replicate these findings on a large scale to see whether the age of the patient, the type of infection, and the use of antibiotics or length of time a child had the illness would affect the response to probiotics," says Schnadower, MD, who conducted the research as a professor of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and is now a professor at University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. "The findings in both studies were consistently negative regardless of how the data were analyzed."

Researchers tested two commercially available brands of probiotics. Recruitment for the Canadian double-blind randomized study began in 2013. Children ranged in age from three to 48 months. Half of the children received probiotics while the other half received a placebo.

"These findings, taken together, are very powerful. The findings show that children treated with probiotics have the exact same outcomes across a large range of symptoms, as those given placebo -- the probiotics had no effect," says Freedman, who is also a member of the O'Brien Institute for Public Health at the Cumming School of Medicine. "The results deliver a clear message that we need to question the role and benefits of probiotics for other health applications using large, patient oriented, rigorous clinical trials."

Probiotics are generally considered safe to use. They are classified as food ingredients in Canada and can be sold as natural health products. As such, they do not require the same rigorous scientific testing that medications require, such as multiple clinical trials, in order to make beneficial claims. "Until now, most studies into the effects of probiotics have been small and industry funded," says Freedman. "In order to better serve families we need independent research to either prove or disprove the claims marketers are making on health care products."
-end-
The Canadian research was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). The U.S. study was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

University of Calgary

Related Public Health Articles from Brightsurf:

COVID-19 and the decolonization of Indigenous public health
Indigenous self-determination, leadership and knowledge have helped protect Indigenous communities in Canada during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, and these principles should be incorporated into public health in future, argue the authors of a commentary in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) http://www.cmaj.ca/lookup/doi/10.1503/cmaj.200852.

Public health consequences of policing homelessness
In a new study examining homelessness, researchers find that policy such a lifestyle has massive public health implications, making sleeping on the street even MORE unhealthy.

Electronic health information exchange improves public health disease reporting
Disease tracking is an important area of focus for health departments in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pandemic likely to cause long-term health problems, Yale School of Public Health finds
The coronavirus pandemic's life-altering effects are likely to result in lasting physical and mental health consequences for many people--particularly those from vulnerable populations--a new study led by the Yale School of Public Health finds.

The Lancet Public Health: US modelling study estimates impact of school closures for COVID-19 on US health-care workforce and associated mortality
US policymakers considering physical distancing measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 face a difficult trade-off between closing schools to reduce transmission and new cases, and potential health-care worker absenteeism due to additional childcare needs that could ultimately increase mortality from COVID-19, according to new modelling research published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

The Lancet Public Health: Access to identification documents reflecting gender identity may improve trans mental health
Results from a survey of over 20,000 American trans adults suggest that having access to identification documents which reflect their identified gender helps to improve their mental health and may reduce suicidal thoughts, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

The Lancet Public Health: Study estimates mental health impact of welfare reform, Universal Credit, in Great Britain
The 2013 Universal Credit welfare reform appears to have led to an increase in the prevalence of psychological distress among unemployed recipients, according to a nationally representative study following more than 52,000 working-age individuals from England, Wales, and Scotland over nine years between 2009-2018, published as part of an issue of The Lancet Public Health journal on income and health.

BU researchers: Pornography is not a 'public health crisis'
Researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) have written an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health special February issue arguing against the claim that pornography is a public health crisis, and explaining why such a claim actually endangers the health of the public.

The Lancet Public Health: Ageism linked to poorer health in older people in England
Ageism may be linked with poorer health in older people in England, according to an observational study of over 7,500 people aged over 50 published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

Study: Public transportation use linked to better public health
Promoting robust public transportation systems may come with a bonus for public health -- lower obesity rates.

Read More: Public Health News and Public Health Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.