Study looks at ef­fects of pro­bi­otics on chil­dren


Two stud­ies re­leased by the Univer­sity of Cal­gary sug­gest giv­ing chil­dren pro­bi­otics to fend off in­testi­nal in­fec­tions won’t make any dif­fer­ence.

Dr. Stephen Freed­man from 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, an emer­gency room pe­di­a­tri­cian.

“I was hop­ing it was go­ing to be pos­i­tive, be­cause as a physi­cian, as a par­ent with two kids who’ve 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 doesn’t sup­port their use.”

Pro­bi­otics are live bac­te­ria and yeasts that are said to be good for the di­ges­tive sys­tem. They are found in sup­ple­ments and some foods such as yo­gurt.

Freed­man led the 3 1/2-year Cana­dian study that in­cluded al­most 900 chil­dren from six cities. He was also co-prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor on a con­cur­rent 10-city, three-year project led by Dr. David Sch­nad­ower in the U.S. that stud­ied al­most 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 kids was ex­tended to seven days.

Some of the chil­dren re­ceived pro­bi­otics, while oth­ers were given a placebo.

The study found there was no change in the kids on pro­bi­otics — their symp­toms didn’t lessen nor did they re­cover any quicker.

“Across both those pop­u­la­tions, both coun­tries, both agents, we found no dif­fer­ence,” said Freed­man.

He stopped short of say­ing that giv­ing pro­bi­otics to chil­dren is a waste of time, but pointed out it can be ex­pen­sive and sug­gested it’s up to par­ents to de­cide.

“They should con­sider the pros and cons of do­ing it. The good news for par­ents is that they’re in­cred­i­bly safe.”

The re­sults of the stud­ies come as a re­lief to Me­lanie Tib­betts, a mother of two young sons in Cal­gary. Sawyer is five months old and Wy­att is al­most four.

“It does take away some of that pres­sure,” Tib­betts said, re­fer­ring to the over­whelm­ing amount of ad­ver­tis­ing aimed di­rectly at wor­ried par­ents.

“You con­tinue to see all of these ad­ver­tise­ments … (about) gut health and how can you help your chil­dren.”

Know­ing that pro­bi­otics aren’t harm­ful is also re­as­sur­ing, she said.

“For me, I’m au­to­mat­i­cally in­ter­ested. If that’s go­ing to po­ten­tially make my chil­dren health­ier, tell me more about it.”


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