Do Probiotics Help With Diarrhea?

If you suffer from diarrhea, you are likely in search of relief and preventive strategies. While there are various treatment approaches, which vary depending on the cause of the diarrhea, you may wonder if probiotics can help with diarrhea. Probiotics may support the healing process by supporting healthy gut microbiota. Read more to learn the usage of probiotics in diarrhea treatment.

Key takeaways:

Diarrhea is characterized by loose stools (watery stools) more than two times a day. Acute diarrhea is a common problem that should last a short time — one or two days, usually no more than 7 days. When diarrhea is persistent for a long time, there could be underlying causes such as infection, food intolerances, and diseases.

Treatment varies based on the type of diarrhea. Diarrhea treatment generally consists of replacement of lost fluids and electrolytes. If the underlying cause is infection, medications are also given.

Probiotics are also gaining popularity in supporting gastrointestinal problems, including diarrhea.

Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms that support healthy gut microbiota. They are found in most fermented foods, including yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and kimchi. Probiotics are also available as dietary supplements and drugs. Let's look at the potential benefits of probiotics in diarrhea.

Probiotics in diarrhea management

Probiotics have been shown to support healing in some cases of diarrhea:

Acute diarrhea

Acute diarrhea refers to watery stools that last for a short period. It is a common gastrointestinal symptom that can be caused by various factors, including infections, dietary changes, allergies, and side effects of medications.

Acute diarrhea generally resolves on its own within a few days. In most cases, it doesn't require extensive medical treatment and can be managed with supportive care.

A Cochrane review analyzed 63 studies on probiotics' effect on acute diarrhea. Most of the participants were children. Probiotics helped 21 in 100 people to heal faster. The results concluded that probiotics can shorten diarrhea by one day on average.

Traveler's diarrhea

Traveler's diarrhea, also known as tourist or holiday diarrhea, is characterized by loose stools and other symptoms like stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and fever. It most commonly affects people traveling to foreign countries, particularly regions with inadequate sanitation and water treatment facilities.

The condition is often caused by consuming contaminated food or water or contact with bacteria, viruses, or parasites not commonly found in the individual's home environment.

According to the International Society of Travel Medicine, strong evidence of probiotics' efficacy in treating traveler's diarrhea is lacking.

Antibiotic-associated diarrhea

Antibiotics can disrupt gut microbiota, which may increase the risk of infection with Clostridioides difficile. The bacteria infect the large intestine, causing chronic diarrhea. Probiotics have been shown to improve antibiotic-associated diarrhea caused by Clostridioides difficile.

Results of 17 studies showed that if probiotics are used alongside antibiotics, the risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhea can decrease.

Diarrhea in infants and children

Diarrhea in infants and children can cause concern due to their vulnerability to dehydration. It's important to closely monitor young children when they experience diarrhea and take appropriate steps to manage the condition.

According to the European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition, probiotics consist of specified doses of Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Saccharomyces boulardii can support healing from acute infectious diarrhea in pediatric patients alongside proper treatment.

Consult a doctor before giving probiotics to your children; they can be vulnerable to microorganisms from outside.

Bowel disease-associated diarrhea

Probiotics have been shown to ease symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases.

Inflammatory bowel diseases can cause diarrhea episodes. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, and Crohn's disease are the most common inflammatory bowel diseases. They can cause recurrent episodes of diarrhea, often accompanied by abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel habits.

Probiotic supplements for diarrhea

Probiotic supplements aim to restore gut balance, alleviate symptoms, and support overall gastrointestinal health.

Most used probiotics in diarrhea treatment

Probiotics are divided into species, genera, and strains. The most common probiotic genera are Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces, Streptococcus, Enterococcus, Escherichia, and Bacillus.

In diarrhea treatment, probiotics containing three Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, or Saccharomyces are commonly used:

  • Lactobacillus. Lactobacillus strains are commonly found in fermented foods. They help maintain a healthy gut microbiota and can potentially aid in managing diarrhea, especially that associated with antibiotic use or certain infections.
  • Bifidobacterium. Like Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium is a genus of bacteria that resides in the human digestive system. Bifidobacterium strains are also used as probiotics to promote gut health.
  • Saccharomyces boulardii. Unlike the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains, Saccharomyces boulardii is a type of yeast rather than a bacterium.

A meta-analysis of 26 randomized clinical trials showed that the use of Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces, and a mixture of probiotics significantly decreased Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea risk.

Considerations when buying probiotics

You may not know how to choose a probiotic supplement that suits your needs. Here are some things to consider when buying probiotics.

  • Expiration date. Probiotics have to be alive to exert benefits. The number of viable probiotic organisms in the product is represented by the colony-forming unit (CFU) count. Check CFU count at "expiration" or "use by" date, not at "manufacture date."
  • Opt for strain-specific probiotics. Research the specific strains included in the product and their documented benefits.
  • Do your own research. Repeatable companies do research to test their products' efficacy. Choose brands that share their manufacturing processes, quality control, and testing.
  • Follow recommended storage requirements. Check whether the product requires refrigeration or can be stored at room temperature, and choose accordingly based on your preferences and lifestyle.
  • Consult your healthcare provider. If you have specific health conditions, allergies, or sensitivities, consult a healthcare professional before choosing a probiotic. In particular, people with compromised immune systems and severe illnesses may have problems tolerating probiotics.

Remember that individuals may respond differently to probiotics. Consulting a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement is a good idea, especially if you have underlying health concerns or are on medication.

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