by Mallory Martin, PharmD student
This article posted by the BBC, “Probiotics ‘soothe some babies with colic’”,1 explores an option into easing or possibly preventing your baby’s colic. The article describes an analysis of 12 studies looking into probiotics as a treatment for colic. The analysis was done by a team of scientists in Australia and reported in the Jama Pediatrics Journal. However the article didn’t cite where in the journal this article was found. This seemed uncharacteristic and it made it difficult to evaluate their findings. All this aside, their findings were quite exciting because although colic is not a harmful condition to babies and resolves itself after 3-4 months1, it can be quite stressful for caretakers. An option for soothing baby’s colic would be highly valued for this reason.
When attempting to sooth colic, parents can be scared away by ambiguity, not wanting to give something to their baby unless it is proven. “Research shows” is a phrase that may be thrown around a lot, but what people really want to know is whether a treatment is safe for their child and if it is effective. Taking these people into consideration and with the incomplete citation by the BBC article, I wanted to explore several articles published on this topic in an attempt to come to a conclusion on whether or not to recommend probiotics for colic.
Probiotics must first be understood on their own before exploring them as a treatment for colic. Probiotics are a mixture of different microorganisms that when orally ingested are considered to have several overall health benefits.1 The word itself means “promoting life”.2 They generally have very low risk in normal adults because the cultures so closely resemblethe natural flora of the gut. 3 Probiotics are also naturally present in food. Some foods that contain probiotics are fermented vegetable such as sour kraut and most commonly yogurt.2 Probiotics contain many different types of bacteria but among the most common is Lactobacillus reuteri. It is this strain of bacteria that is considered to have the most health benefits. 2
Certain health benefits have been discovered with probiotic use. Probiotics, L. reuteri specifically, has been shown to lower LDL levels, kill bacteria that causes tooth decay, lessen the harmful effects of gingivitis, and lower your likelihood of developing episodic diarrhea or traveler’s diarrhea. Some reports even show that this bacterium can lessen a child’s risk of developing eczema through probiotic-filled breast milk. Studies in women’s health showed that it may help balance the bacteria present in the vagina and lower the risk of yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and urinary tract infections. Some additional benefits include its ability to reduce upper respiratory infections when compared to placebo, provide relief to baby’s colic, and reduce bloating and gas.2
Although the results are promising, research in this area is not concrete. Probiotics may have both risks and benefits for different people. Risk for special populations, such as small children and older adults, is unclear since there is little to no research done on these groups.2 So far, healthy, full-term babies who have received high doses of probiotics have not presented with any negative effects.4 However there is some evidence that young children who are pre-term or not fully healthy, such as children with weakened immune systems, catheters or other medical devices inside them, may be at risk if taking probiotics.4 When considering L. reuteri in treatment of colic, one study by Savino concluded that it is inconclusive whether L. reuteri reduces colic but it appears to reduce levels of harmful E. coli. 5,6 Savino performed a follow up study after comparing L.reuteri with simethicone and compared the bacteria against a placebo in treatment of colic.7 This study had a better study design for its desired outcome because the infants involved were chosen based on Wessel’s Criteria, a more systematic approach than the first study. The results concluded that L. reuteri DSM 17 938 at a dose of 108 colony-forming units per day in early breastfed infants improved symptoms of baby’s colic and was well tolerated and safe.7 Some factors that could contribute to the varying results in these studies include the differences in the care the infants received in different homes and different study designs. An article put out by Fox News article reported on this as well. The conclusion was that probiotics may not be effective. However in young infants, they can potentially reduce risk of asthma and eczema.4 This positive effect, while unrelated, is something to consider when evaluating probiotics for your child.
Considering all this information, I would recommend probiotics as a means of treatment for infantile colic. The best option would be for a nursing mother to start a regimen of daily probiotics and allow the probiotics to transfer through the breast milk. However, L. reuteri is available for infants to ingest. Gerber has a colic relief drop that specifically has L. reuteri in it which includes sunflower oil. Gerber also has a powder for formula around 30 dollars for 24 ounces. BioGaia has a straight L. reuteri drop for around 20 dollars for 5 mLs. There are options. Even if it may not be 100% guaranteed to be effective, if your colicky baby is becoming too much to handle and you have tried many other options, I would say it is worth a try. Especially considering no bad effects have been found and several unrelated positive effects have been suggested. Probiotics would be a safe and natural way to go in your attempt to soothe your baby and get a good night’s rest yourself. Some may not agree with me. With the lack of research and uncertainty, risks could exist. Just because no negative effects have been found does not mean that it is completely safe. Would you take that risk with your own child?
1. Roberts, M. Probiotics ‘soothe some babies with colic’. The BBC. October 7, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-24426623. Accessed December 3, 2013.
2. Maier, R. Surprising Benefits of Probiotics. Healthine Web site. April 13, 2013. http://ask.healthline.com/health-slideshow/surprising-benefits-probiotics. Accessed December 3, 2013.
3. Probiotics – Topic Overview. Webmd Web site. February 04, 2011. http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/tc/probiotics-topic-overview. Accessed September 15, 2013.
4. Rettner, R. Are Probiotics Safe for Kids?. Livescience Web site. October 06, 2011. http://www.livescience.com/16426-probiotics-safe-kids.html. Accessed December 3, 2013.
5. Woznicki, K. Probiotics May Reduce Crying From Colic. Webmd Web site. August 16, 2010. http://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/news/20100816/probiotics-may-reduce-crying-from-colic. Accessed October 15, 2013.
6. Savino F, Cordisco L, Tarasco V, et al. Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938 in infantile colic: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Pediatrics. 2010;126(3):e526-33.
7. Savino F, Pelle E, Palumeri E, Oggero R, Miniero R. Lactobacillus reuteri (American Type Culture Collection Strain 55730) versus simethicone in the treatment of infantile colic: a prospective randomized study. Pediatrics. 2007;119(1):e124-30.