Do Probiotics Help With Gastroenteritis?
There are few things in life grosser than toddlers with gastroenteritis. I’m all for anything to make it end faster. Many moms swear by probiotics – in packets, in yogurt, in pill-form… But many wonder, are they really the magic bullet?
The GI tract is like a garden hose running from mouth to anus. Except a really dirty hose, full of, well, you know. You might be wondering why we’re all so anal (pun intended!) about washing our hands and keeping germs out when the dirtiest ones are already inside of us. It’s because the gut is an amazing organ that keeps bad bacteria in check and out of the rest of the body.
The good bacteria, also called probiotics, help the gut accomplish this important job by not allowing bad bacteria to flourish. They can also help the body manage inflammation and mediate pain. They possibly even help the walls of the gut maintain that integrity they need to keep their contents separate from the rest of the body.
Good bacteria, also called probiotics, help the gut by not allowing bad bacteria to flourish.
Sounds amazing, right? Right! The problem is, delivering good bacteria to the gut isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Lots of yogurt brands, for example, boast “live cultures.” Well guess what happens to those living creepy crawlers when they land in the acid bath called your stomach? They sizzle. So while yogurt is a healthy snack for many other reasons, it’s probably not the best vehicle for delivering good bacteria to the lower parts of the GI tract.
That’s where those probiotic pills and packets come in – they are formulated specially for effective delivery to the colon. But before you race to the health-food store, know that not all probiotics are created equally! Just like there are many different bad bacteria that all cause different illnesses, the different strains of good bacteria have different benefits, too. While B. infantis (also called Align) has shown a lot of promise in the treatment of diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel, there’s no data to support recommending it’s use for gastroenteritis. The 2 probiotic strains that have been shown to shorten the duration of infectious diarrhea are S. boulardii (Florastor) and Lactobacillus GG (Culturelle).
While yogurt is a healthy snack for many other reasons, it’s probably not the best vehicle for delivering good bacteria to the lower parts of the GI tract.
Does that mean the Culturelle or Florastor probiotics are going to cure your kid’s gastroenteritis overnight? No. Does it mean the symptoms may last fewer days? Yes. And what most studies do seem to agree on is that these particular probiotics are safe. So if you’re wondering what I do when my kids have gastroenteritis, I buy the little Culturelle packets, dissolve them in their water, and encourage them to drink drink drink!
Talia is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist, currently practicing at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto. She she is the founder of bellyblog.ca, a website dedicated to delivering high quality health information that’s easy to digest, and is the mom of three boys aged 3 and under and an extremely tolerant 7-year-old Labradoodle.