June 29, 2007 / 3:43 PM / 12 years ago

Yogurt drink settles stomach after antibiotics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A yogurt drink containing “good” bacteria helped patients avoid the diarrhea caused by antibiotics, British researchers reported on Friday.

People who drank Actimel, made by French food group Danone, were able to leave the hospital sooner, the researchers said in the British Medical Journal.

None of the patients given Actimel developed diarrhea caused by Clostridium difficile, compared to 17 percent of people who drank a similar-looking milkshake, they found.

One in every 250 hospital deaths involves C. difficile as a contributory or main factor, the researchers said. This particular bacteria is often resistant to antibiotic treatment and can make patients seriously ill.

Between 5 percent and 25 percent of patients treated with antibiotics develop diarrhea, in part because the drugs kill some of the bacteria normally resident in the intestines.

Many doctors recommend eating yogurt to replace some of these beneficial bacteria, and drinks are now sold commercially that claim to do the job even better.

Dietitian Mary Hickson of Imperial College and London’s Hammersmith Hospital and colleagues tested Actimel, which contains three beneficial bacteria — Lactobacillus casei, L. bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus.

They studied 135 middle-aged and elderly patients who agreed to drink Actimel or a similar-looking milkshake twice a day during treatment and for a week afterwards.

Only 12 percent of the patients who drank Actimel had diarrhea, compared to 34 percent of those who got the milkshake, Hickson’s team reported.

The hospital trust and Danone split the costs of the study.

Providing the drink cost $120 (60 pounds) per patient, compared to a cost of $8,000 (4,000 pounds) for treating a case of diarrhea in the hospital.

“There were no adverse events and the drink was well accepted,” the researchers wrote. “Clearly substantial savings could be made by the routine use of probiotics.”

But it was not clear precisely how the drink worked.

“We could not establish which bacteria species are effective from the three strains in this probiotic drink; the three species may be working synergistically to prevent diarrhea or alternatively one species may be more effective than another,” the researchers wrote.

“Therefore, our results cannot be extrapolated to other probiotic products, which must be tested in similar trials.”

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