Probiotics may ease kids' belly aches

Yet little evidence exists to date for helpful medications or dietary changes, Dr. Ruggiero Francavilla of the University of Bari, in Italy, told Reuters Health in an e-mail. Given recent research hinting at the therapeutic value of probiotics for adults with stomach problems, particularly a condition known as irritable bowel syndrome that can cause pain and abnormal bowel movements, Francavilla and his team wanted to see if good bacteria might benefit kids too.

The team studied 141 Italian children between the ages of 5 and 14 suffering from chronic belly pain, mostly resulting from irritable bowel syndrome. They randomly assigned each child to daily doses of either a common strain of probiotic, Lactobacillus rhamnosus strain GG, or a placebo that looked and tasted similar, for eight weeks.

At the end of the treatment period, L. rhamnosus GG appeared to reduce the frequency and intensity of the kids’ stomach pain, report the researchers in the journal Pediatrics.

While both groups averaged about four stomach aches per week prior to the study, frequencies reduced to about one per week for kids taking the probiotics and two per week for those on the placebo. Based on a 10-point scale, with 10 being worst, the average level of pain reported before treatment was 4.3 in both groups.

These scores dropped to 2.3 and 3.4, respectively, for kids in the treatment and placebo groups. Further, the researchers found that the effects of the probiotic lasted at least another eight weeks beyond completion of the study treatment. Although they note that the probiotic’s pain-relieving benefits could still wane and require repeated use to maintain the effect. L. rhamnosus GG is widely available at drug stores and sold online, generally costing less than a dollar per daily dose.

“Lactobacillus rhamnosus strain GG is one of the best-studied probiotic bacteria in clinical trials for treating and preventing several intestinal disorders and is widely available in different countries,” said Francavilla.

He added that his team conducted the study with kids recruited through their pediatricians in a wide range of communities in southern Italy, so the results could be applicable to the general population. No other strain of probiotic is currently a valid alternative for this particular condition, Francavilla noted. “Probiotics are not all the same and should not be used deliberately for all the possible indications; we are entering the era of targeted probiotic use,” he said.

To fully achieve the specific stomach ache-reducing benefit of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, Francavilla advises taking the probiotic long-term or for at least eight weeks.

SOURCE: Pediatrics, online November 15, 2010.