Going Pro to Combat Diarrhea

Probiotic therapies prove useful for reducing length of persistent diarrhea

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Researchers from the Cochrane Collaboration found that the length of time patients suffer from diarrhea can be reduced through probiotic bacteria therapies. These therapies lessen the chance of diarrheal episodes lasting longer than four days.

Diarrheal diseases kill almost two million people per year in developing countries. According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, diarrheal diseases are the second-leading cause of childhood deaths globally. Current treatments, mainly dehydration fluids, do not reduce the length of time of illness. Probiotics, on the other hand, may help lessen the suffering of patients. Sometimes referred to as "good bacteria," probiotics can kill the bacteria, viruses, or parasites responsible for the disease through a variety of ways. For example, the probiotics could starve out the diarrhea-causing agents by competing for the same nutrients.

Although Cochrane has produced another review reporting the benefits of probiotic therapies, this new review draws from a data set over four times larger than the previous. After reviewing data of 8,014 patients from 63 trials, researchers found that giving probiotics in conjunction with rehydration fluids reduced the duration of diarrhea by about a day and reduced by 59 percent the chance of diarrheal episodes lasting longer than four days. They also reported no serious side effects aside from vomiting, which also occurred with placebos.

"A striking finding of this review is that most trials reported that probiotics reduced diarrhea," said lead researcher Stephen Allen of the School of Medicine at Swansea University, UK. "The beneficial effect was consistent and significant across many different types of trials." According to Allen, these probiotic therapies can be administered safely in conjunction with rehydration fluids. He adds, however, that more research needs to be conducted in order to determine which specific strands of bacteria are most effective in treating diarrhea and in preventing the development of long-term, persistent diarrhea.

A different group of Cochrane researchers produced a second, related review that examined the use of probiotics for treating persistent diarrhea in children only. As in the first study, probiotics proved useful in reducing the length of a diarrheal episode. However, the second study examined only 464 patients from 4 trials, thus providing only limited evidence of benefit, say the authors.

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Review Date: 
December 7, 2010
Last Updated:
December 7, 2010