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Probiotics could help with common antibiotic side effect

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Probiotics help with diarrhea, finds study review.

A review of studies shows probiotics can thwart a common gastrointestinal side effect of antibiotics. The finding is important because 30 percent of patients who take drugs to treat infection develop diarrhea from overgrowth of bacteria. In some cases, diarrhea can be severe, according to background information from the study, which is published in the journal of the American Medical Association.

Probiotics help maintain balance in the gut

The study looked at how probiotics balance beneficial bacteria in the gut to curb even serious antibiotic associated diarrhea (AAD) that can include the development of Clostridium difficile (C. diff); an emerging 'superbug' that has concerned researchers.

The authors wrote: "Potentially, probiotics maintain or restore gut microecology (microbial ecology) during or after antibiotic treatment. “There is an increasing interest in probiotic interventions, and evidence for the effectiveness of probiotics in preventing or treating AAD is also increasing."

According to the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide, treating health conditions with live bacteria is increasingly recommended by physicians for conditions that don't respond to conventional medicine, such as irritable bowel syndrome. Experts also note probiotics are generally safe, with the exception of "a theoretical risk for people with impaired immune function."

The review team found 82 studies that met criteria for review. Probiotics included in the randomized controlled studies (RCTs).

Many of the probiotic combinations weren’t identified in the studies, but most used just Lactobacillus- or a combination with other live organisms.

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In 63 of the trials that reported the number of participants with diarrhea and the number who were randomized in both treatment groups, probiotics reduced diarrhea risk by 42%.

There were so many differences in the studies, the researchers couldn’t ascertain whether a particular type of probiotic helped or whether there was an association with certain antibiotic/probiotic combinations.

Still, the authors concluded there is enough evidence to say probiotics can reduce the risk of diarrhea which is a common side effect of taking antibiotics. They recommend more research. Probiotics can be found in yogurt, are sold as supplements, kefir (fermented milk), aged cheeses and fermented foods such as sauerkraut.

JAMA. (2012;307[18]:1959-1969)

Harvard Medical School

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