Lactobacillus dietary supplements may help curtail diarrhea in young children, according to a meta-analysis conducted at the University of Washington, Seattle. The research was led by Cornelius Van Niel, M.D., who concluded that children under age 3 who took such supplements had lower incidents of diarrhea compared with those taking a placebo. Lactobacillus is the friendly bacteria naturally found in yogurt.
The findings may help not only children with occasional diarrhea, but also millions of children worldwide who suffer from disease and even death, from acute infectious diarrhea.
"It seems the lactobacillus helps you have less diarrhea," said Chris Feudtner, M.D., Ph.D., a lead researcher of the study.
According to the research, published in the April issue of Pediatrics medical journal, children taking lactobacillus supplements cut their duration of diarrhea by nearly 17 hours. The overall duration of diarrhea is typically one to five days, depending on the cause of illness and how soon the child takes medication. The researchers recorded no side effects.
The scientists do not know exactly how lactobacillus helps curb diarrhea, but they speculate that it may help increase the presence of friendly bacteria in the digestive tract. The extra boost helps tip the scale against unfriendly, or debilitating, bacteria.
Although yogurt naturally contains lactobacillus, Feudtner advises against feeding it to children with diarrhea. This is because yogurt also contains lactose, and the body actually becomes lactose-intolerant during bouts of diarrhea. "So [yogurt] actually could make the diarrhea last a bit longer," he said. "I wouldn't recommend it."
Furthermore, yogurt does not contain sufficient quantities of lactobacillus to yield the same results as taking supplements. The researchers found that children who took larger dosages of lactobacillus—as much as 100 times more than some others—ended diarrhea sooner.
This analysis is the largest, most comprehensive done so far, culling data from nine previous clinical trials involving 791 children in nine countries. The original trials were conducted between 1965 and 2000 by mainstream as well as complementary and alternative medical researchers.
Helen Chang is a Denver-based freelance writer.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 7/p. 14