Vital Signs

Probiotics linked to lowered diarrhoea risk

Antibiotics can upset the normal balance of bacteria in the intestinal tract, and one of the most common and dangerous results is infection with C. difficile, bacteria that can cause diarrhoea, colitis and even death. Now a review of studies has found that probiotics — beneficial microorganisms introduced into the gut — can reduce the risk.

Researchers, writing online this month in the Annals of Internal Medicine, pooled data from 20 randomised controlled trials that compared a course of probiotics with a placebo or no treatment on the incidence of C. difficile-associated diarrhoea.

The studies used several species of the beneficial bacteria Saccharomyces and Lactobacillus, and the doses varied. Compared with placebo or no treatment, higher and lower doses of these probiotic bacteria were more effective in preventing diarrhoea in both adults and children. Ingesting more than one species at a time produced an even greater benefit.

Overall, the researchers found, probiotics reduced the risk of C. difficile-associated diarrhoea by 66 per cent.

“The take-home message is that it appears that probiotics are highly underutilised in hospitalised older adults,” said the lead author, Bradley C Johnston, an epidemiologist at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

Preventing C. difficile-associated diarrhoea in this population, he continued, might require more than hand-washing and surface-cleaning.

Nicolas Bakalar

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