There has been a lot of hype regarding new probiotics products on the market, and the number of choices can seem overwhelming to many people. While a lot of health claims regarding probiotics are backed by science, research into many potential health benefits has been inconclusive. When it comes to diarrhea, however, solid evidence shows that taking a probiotic can reduce the symptoms associated with many forms of this condition. Here’s some information that you need to know if you are thinking of taking probiotics to help relieve your diarrhea.
What is Diarrhea?
The World Health Organization defines diarrhea as a condition where the sufferer has three or more instances of watery stools over a period of two or more consecutive days.1 Even though most people assume there’s only one type of diarrhea, there are actually several. These include:
- Osmotic diarrhea – Typically caused by lactose intolerance
- Secretory diarrhea – Caused by a lack of proper absorption of ions in the gastrointestinal tract, or “gut.”
- Inflammatory diarrhea – Commonly associated with blood in the stool
- Antibiotic-associated diarrhea – A common side effect of antibiotic use
How Good Bacteria Help Fight the Ones That Contribute to Diarrhea
Several strains of beneficial microbes can inhibit the growth of bacteria that can lead to the development of diarrhea (E. Coli, Vibrio cholerae, and Salmonella are common culprits).2 One of the reasons why these good bacteria work, research suggests, is that probiotic bacteria lower pH levels in the gut and also help stimulate the production of butyric acid and lactic acid, which help strengthen the digestive system.3 Probiotics also help produce certain metabolites that help protect the gut, such as glutamine, short-chain fatty acids, arginine, and others.4
New Probiotics and Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea
Probiotics are widely known to help reduce the duration of antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD).5 When you take antibiotics, these powerful medications kill beneficial as well as harmful bacteria in the gut. While they are effective in helping eradicate a wide range of pathogenic bacteria, they can also leave the gut vulnerable to other bacteria that can cause gastrointestinal distress. When the “bad” bacteria outnumber the “good” ones, you will be much more susceptible to developing diarrhea. That’s why it’s so important that you either eat more foods rich in good bacteria (such as sauerkraut, sourdough bread, yogurt, and others) or introduce new probiotics into your system through a supplement.
One particular strain associated with AAD is Clostridium difficile, or C. difficile. AAD occurs in as many as 30 percent of patients who take antibiotics, and C. difficile is the cause about 25 percent of the time. Studies have shown that L. rhamnosus GG and other strains of beneficial bacteria are helpful in inhibiting the growth of C. difficile.6
New Probiotics and Viral and Bacterial Diarrhea
Acute diarrhea, which is typically caused by a virus or harmful bacteria, is a major health issue in many areas of the world. It’s so bad, in fact, that it can often be fatal for children living in impoverished countries. But bacterial and viral bacteria can happen anywhere, regardless of how developed a country may be.
Probiotics have been proven to not only help alleviate symptoms of acute diarrhea, but also shorten the duration of an attack by as much as 24-36 hours.7 Beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, Lactobacillus casei Shirota, L. reuteri, L. acidophilus, and certain strains of the Bifidobacterium family have been shown to be particularly effective, especially in infants.8
Preventing Infectious Diarrhea in Children
Many studies have been performed that have analyzed the potential of new probiotics in helping to prevent infectious diarrhea in children. Young children, in particular, seem to be more responsive to probiotic products, because their immune system is still developing and they also have a less developed gut than adults.9
One study showed that children who are at a higher risk of suffering infectious diarrhea can reduce that risk by consuming milk that is supplemented with probiotic bacteria. In this study, Finnish children in day care centers who consumed milk containing the L. rhamnosus bacteria were absent from school 16 percent less due to gastrointestinal problems than children who didn’t drink probiotic-rich milk.10
Another study involved the administration of L. rhamnosus GG to more than 200 children living in Peru. Half of the children were given the probiotic while the other half received a placebo. According to the results, the treatment group suffered substantially fewer infections diarrhea attacks than the placebo group – an average of 5.2 attacks per year (per child) compared to six per year. The children ranged in age from six months to two years.11
What to Look for in New Probiotics Products
Whether you’re looking for drinks, powders, or other kinds of supplements, you won’t find any shortage of new probiotics products from which to choose. However, you need to look closely at the labels before you make your buying decision.
Make sure the labels specify which types of beneficial bacteria are contained in the product, and the number of colony-forming units (CFUs) that are included in every serving. This is basically the number of good microbes you’ll be ingesting – numbers range from 1 billion to hundreds of billions, with the average being anywhere between 15 billion and 30 billion.
You should also pay close attention to the wording on the label when it comes to the viability of the bacteria. If you see a phrase such as “viable until the date of expiration,” that’s a good sign that the bacteria will be alive when you ingest them. But if you see something along the lines of “viable at the time of manufacture,” you need to select another product. The reason is that there is no guarantee the bacteria will be alive when you take them. If that’s the case, you’ll just be wasting money.
These are just a few of the things you’ll want to keep in mind if you’re thinking of starting a new probiotics regimen to fight diarrhea. Talk to your doctor, though, and make sure you are healthy enough to take them. Probiotics are harmless for most people, but can cause problems in those who suffering from severe illnesses or have compromised immune system.
1 Vrese M, Marteau P. Probiotics and Prebiotics: Effects on Diarrhea. Jnnutritionorg. 2007. Accessed May 3, 2017.
2 M H Coconnier A. Antibacterial effect of the adhering human Lactobacillus acidophilus strain LB. PubMed Central (PMC). 1997. Accessed May 3, 2017.
3 De Keersmaecker S, Verhoeven T, Desair J, Marchal K, Vanderleyden J, Nagy I. Strong antimicrobial activity ofLactobacillus rhamnosusGG againstSalmonella typhimuriumis due to accumulation of lactic acid. FEMS Microbiology Letters. 2006;259(1):89-96. doi:10.1111/j.1574-6968.2006.00250.x.
4 Oatley JT e. Binding of aflatoxin B1 to bifidobacteria in vitro. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbinlmnihgov. 2000. Accessed May 3, 2017.
5 Vrese M, Marteau P. 2007. Available at: http://jn.nutrition.org/content/137/3/803S.full#ref-11. Accessed May 3, 2017.
6 Szajewska H, Ruszczynski M, Radzikowski A. Probiotics in the prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhea in children: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. PubMed Health. 2006. Accessed May 3, 2017.
7 Salazar-Lindo E, Miranda-Langschwager P, Campos-Sanchez M, Chea-Woo E, Sack R. Lactobacillus caseistrain GG in the treatment of infants with acute watery diarrhea: A randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled clinical trial [ISRCTN67363048]. BMC Pediatrics. 2004;4(1). doi:10.1186/1471-2431-4-18.
8 Szajewska H, Kotowska M, Mrukowicz J, Arma′nska M, Mikolajczyk W. Efficacy of Lactobacillus GG in prevention of nosocomial diarrhea in infants. The Journal of Pediatrics. 2001;138(3):361-365. doi:10.1067/mpd.2001.111321.
9 Vrese M, Marteau P. Probiotics and Prebiotics: Effects on Diarrhea. Jnnutritionorg. 2007. Accessed May 3, 2017.
10 Hatakka K e. Effect of long term consumption of probiotic milk on infections in children attending day care centres: double blind, randomised trial. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbinlmnihgov. 2001. Accessed May 3, 2017.
11 Oberhelman RA e. A placebo-controlled trial of Lactobacillus GG to prevent diarrhea in undernourished Peruvian children. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbinlmnihgov. 1999. Accessed May 3, 2017.