CALGARY – Two studies released by the University of Calgary suggest giving children probiotics to fend off intestinal infections will not make any difference.
Dr. Stephen Freedman of the University's Cumming School of Medicine was part of both projects, one in the United States and the other in Canada. They looked at the effects of giving probiotics to hundreds of children brought into emergency departments with vomiting and diarrhea.
"I thought it was really important to answer this question as the field of probiotics continues to grow and we're going to see more and more of it probably," said Freedman, a pediatrician in the emergency room.
"I was hoping it was going to be a positive one, because as a physician, as a parent with two kids who have had vomiting and diarrhea, I would love to have a treatment option that we can provide and recommend that is based on solid evidence .
"The evidence does not support their use."
Probiotics have live bacteria and yeasts that are said to be good for the digestive system. They are found in supplements and some foods such as yoghurt.
Freedman led the 3 1/2-year Canadian study that included almost 900 children from six cities. He was also a co-principal investigator on a concurrent 10-city, three-year project led by Dr. David Schnadower in the U.S. that studied nearly 1,000 youngsters.
Findings from both studies are published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Researchers looked at children between three months and four years who were suffering from gastroenteritis. Each study looked at a different strain of probiotics.
The Canadian study focused on children who had symptoms for less than 72 hours. The time frame for the American children was extended to seven days.
Some of the children received probiotics, others were given a placebo.
The study found there was no change in the kids on probiotics – their symptoms did not lessen nor did they recover any faster.
"We have found no difference," said Freedman.
He said, "It's just a matter of time for parents to decide where to go."
"They should consider the pros and cons of doing it. The good news for parents is that they're incredibly safe."