During the holiday season, I thought I would dedicate this newsletter to discussing how probiotics can help keep children healthy. This discussion will review two articles that have been published in the last month about the benefits of probiotics for children.

Probiotics and Acute Infectious Diarrhea

The first study was to determine whether probiotics have clinical benefit for children with acute infectious diarrhea (1).

Study design:
The study involved 304 children, ages 3 months to 6 years who were hospitalized for acute diarrhea. All the children received rehydration therapy via intravenous fluids and oral rice or half strength formula as age appropriate. The children were randomized to receive a probiotic preparation or a placebo. The benefit of the treatment was assessed in terms of recovery time to the first normal stool. Other clinical symptoms evaluated included fever, vomiting, abdominal pain and appetite.

Results:
The average duration of diarrhea after start of therapy was reduced from 86.3 hours in the placebo group to 60.1 hours in the probiotic group. There was also lessening of abdominal pain, fever and overall length of hospital stay.

Discussion:
To understand how probiotics benefited these children, the immunologic effects of probiotics were evaluated. The study reveals the immune cells of the intestine reacted in two ways; 1) by increasing production of molecules that decrease inflammation and 2) by increasing the quantity of protective intestinal bacteria (bifidobacteria and lactobacillus).

While other studies have shown that probiotics can lessen infectious diarrhea in children, this is the first study that has simultaneously evaluated the clinical, immunologic, and microbiologic effects of probiotics.

Probiotics and Chronic Abdominal Pain (CAP)

The second article deals with the occurrence of chronic abdominal pain (CAP) in children. CAP accounts for approximately 25% of pediatric gastroenterology office visits.

This study’s purpose was to determine if excess build up of intestinal bacteria in the small intestine could be a common cause of the CAP symptoms (2). This condition is called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and is referred to as “SIBO”. Sometimes, the bacteria in the small intestines can increase and disrupt the normal digestive process. When this occurs, diarrhea, excess gas, and abdominal pain can occur.

Study Design:
This study evaluated children ages 8 to 18. Of those involved in the study, 40 were healthy and 75 had chronic abdominal. Using a breath hydrogen test, it was possible to determine if there was abnormal buildup of small bowel bacteria.

Results:
The study found 91% of children with CAP had abnormal breath hydrogen indicating excess small intestinal bacteria, or SIBO. The control group had a 35% positive breath test.

Discussion:
This study found an objective measure to explain chronic abdominal pain in these children.  Often, psychological explanations are proposed to explain the ongoing symptoms, and the correct diagnosis is missed.

To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is the first report on the frequency of abnormal breath hydrogen test in children with CAP.

If the breath test is abnormal, then the current recommended therapy is to use antibiotics to decrease the bacterial count in the small bowel (3).  Studies have shown up to a 75% improvement in symptoms after a course of antibiotics. Sometimes there is a relapse and further courses of antibiotics are required (4).

Another approach to treat SIBO is to give probiotics.  A recent study using a probiotic in patients with SIBO found a 47% decrease or normalization of the breath hydrogen test (5). The authors concluded that, “probiotics are a promising, easily handled and well-tolerated treatment option for SIBO”. In addition, since SIBO has a high recurrence rate, the availability of a treatment alternative to antibiotics could reduce both the risk of antibiotic resistance and the incidence of side effects.

Take Home Message

Current medical research continues to gain a better understanding of how the intestinal bacteria affect the function and health of our intestines. The results of these studies certainly further our knowledge about how probiotics can improve gastrointestinal disorders in children. Consider discussing with your child’s doctor taking a good probiotic, like EndoMune, if your child is having a problem with infectious diarrhea or chronic abdominal pain.

Best wishes for a very healthy happy holiday season and New Year!!

Eat healthy and live well!
Lawrence J Hoberman MD

(1) Probiotics Have Clinical, Microbiologic, and Immunologic Efficacy in Acute Infectious Diarrhea Chen, Chien-Chang; Kong, Man-Shan; Lai, Ming-Wei; Chao, Hsun-Chin; Chang, Kuei-Wen; Chen, Shih-Yen; Huang, Yhu-Chering; Chiu, Cheng-Hsun; Li, Wen-Chen; Lin, Pen-Yi; Chen, Chih-Jung; Lin, Tzou-YienThe Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal.2010 Feb;29(2)

(2) Chronic Abdominal Pain in Children Is Associated with High Prevalence of Abnormal Microbial Fermentation.Collins BS, Lin HC.Dig Dis Sci. 2009 Nov 4.

(3) Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth: diagnosis and treatment.Gasbarrini A, Lauritano EC, Gabrielli M, Scarpellini E, Lupascu A, Ojetti V, Gasbarrini G.Dig Dis. 2007;25(3):237-40.

(4) Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth recurrence after antibiotic therapy. Lauritano EC, Gabrielli M, Scarpellini E, Lupascu A, Novi M, Sottili S, Vitale G, Cesario V, Serricchio M, Cammarota G, Gasbarrini G, Gasbarrini Am J Gastroenterol. 2008 Aug;103(8):2031-5.

(5) Bacillus clausii as a treatment of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. Gabrielli M, Lauritano EC, Scarpellini E, Lupascu A, Ojetti V, Gasbarrini G, Silveri NG, Gasbarrini A.Am J Gastroenterol. 2009 May;104(5):1327-8. Epub 2009 Apr 7.