Jury Still Out on Probiotics for Colic

Probiotics to treat colic may be effective but there is too little evidence to be sure

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) The nonstop crying of a baby with colic can fray the nerves of the most patient parent. One possible option for treatment in recent years has focused on probiotics.

Probiotics are bacterial microorganisms that are thought to provide health benefits to those who consume them.

A recent study that reviewed the research, however, found there is still not enough evidence to say whether probiotics help colic or not.

Colic is a condition among infants 3 months old and younger in which they cry excessively for at least three hours at least three days a week for at least three weeks.

Some of the studies found the bacterium Lactobacillus reuteri was helpful, but others found that probiotics did not help at all.

"Ask your pediatrician about colic."

The study, led by Valerie Sung, MPH, of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Melbourne in Australia, reviewed the available research on using probiotics to treat colic.

The researchers combed through MEDLINE, EMBASE and Cochrane Library databases to find all studies that compared oral probiotics to a placebo or no treatment.

A placebo is a "fake" treatment that has no medicine or actual probiotics in it.

The authors identified 12 studies, involving 1,825 babies, that met their requirements and analyzed the data from these studies.

Five of these trials looked at using probiotics to manage colic that babies already showed, and seven tested probiotics to prevent colic.

Among the conclusions of these 12 studies, six found that probiotics could reduce infants' crying, and six concluded that probiotics had no effect on crying.

Among the five that tested probiotics to treat existing colic, three found that probiotics worked in babies who were breastfed and one found they might work for formula-fed babies. But the fifth found that probiotics did not help breastfed babies who had colic.

When the researchers more closely analyzed three studies which all focused on Lactobacillus reuteri used in breastfed babies, they found that giving babies this probiotic reduced babies' crying time after three weeks.

Among the seven studies that looked at using probiotics to prevent colic, only two concluded that probiotics might be effective.

However, all of the studies the researchers found had possible flaws that could have led to bias in the results.

The studies were also very different from one another in how they were conducted, how the probiotics were given to babies and in the characteristics of the babies studied.

The researchers therefore concluded that there still is not enough data to determine whether probiotics in general can be used to effectively treat or prevent colic.

"Although L. reuteri may be effective as treatment for crying in exclusively breastfed infants with colic, there is still insufficient evidence to support probiotic use to manage colic, especially in formula-fed infants, or to prevent infant crying," they wrote.

Until there is more research with well-designed studies, they cannot offer any recommendations about the effectiveness of probiotics for infants' crying.

The study was published October 7 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. The research was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Victorian Government's Operational Infrastructure Support Program.

One author is a member of the Nestle Nutrition Institute Medical Advisory Board Oceania and the Nutricia Medical Advisory Board Australasia. She has also been a paid speaker for Nestle and Nutricia (Danone) and used probiotic and placebo research products from them for other studies.

Review Date: 
October 10, 2013
Last Updated:
October 11, 2013