Probiotics—The Key to Calming Colic?

Healthnotes Newswire (February 15, 2007)—If you have a colicky baby, relief may be at hand. A study in Pediatrics reports that a “friendly bacterium,” the probiotic strain Lactobacillus reuteri, may soothe crying in infants with colic.

As many as 28% of babies suffer from colic—persistent, inconsolable crying in an otherwise healthy infant that lasts for at least three hours per day on three or more days per week. Symptoms usually begin at about three to six weeks of age and typically resolve by the time the baby is three months old.

While a couple of months might not sound that long, any parent of a colicky baby can tell you that it seems like an eternity when you’re in the middle of it. During crying episodes, babies may draw their limbs up to their tummies, grimace, and turn bright red, leaving caregivers desperate to relieve the baby—and themselves.

No one knows for sure what causes colic, but some researchers have suggested that an immature digestive system, excess intestinal gas, baby’s temperament, or sensitivities to foods in a breast-feeding mother’s diet might be to blame.

Babies with colic tend to have less beneficial “probiotic” bacteria in their gastrointestinal tracts, a fact that led Italian doctors to try using a probiotic product to help ease the condition.

In a 28-day study involving 90 colicky breast-fed babies, half of the infants were given 5 drops of a probiotic supplement containing 100 million colony forming units of L. reuteri each day, 30 minutes after feeding. The other babies were given 30 mg of simethicone (an antigas agent commonly prescribed for colic) two times per day after feeding. The mothers were asked to avoid all dairy products during the study.

After seven days, infants in the L. reuteri group cried significantly less than babies in the simethicone group. By the end of the study, babies in the probiotic group cried 94 minutes less per day than the simethicone-treated babies did. In all, 95% of the babies who were given the probiotic experienced improvement, compared with only 7% who took simethicone.

“Our results suggest a potential role of L. reuteri as a new therapeutic approach to infantile colic. The safety profile of probiotics makes them a favorable alternative to all other therapeutic options for breast-fed infants with colic,” the researchers said. “Additional research from clinical observation is needed to confirm the effects of L. reuteri,” and to determine the “ideal strain for the treatment of infantile colic.”

The L. reuteri product used in the study is commercially available from BioGaia AB, Stockholm, Sweden.

(Pediatrics 2007;119:124–30)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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