Probiotic drink may help reduce infections in children

Probiotics, or so called ‘friendly bacteria, have been heavily researched for over ten years now and many studies,  support their use for prevention and treatment of gastrointestinal diseases as well as a whole host of other issues such as eczema and even childhood cold and ear infections.  A recently published study (1) has found that  a yoghurt-like drink containing probiotics might reduce the rate of common sicknesses such as flu, diarrhoea, ear infections and sinusitis in children who are in day-care.

Probiotic Drink
Probiotics might reduce the rate of common sicknesses such as flu, diarrhoea, ear infections and sinusitis in children/

The researchers (1) of the study were evaluating whether a fermented dairy drink containing the probiotic strain Lactobacillus casei DN-114 001 could reduce the incidence of common infectious diseases in children.  Over 600 children attending day-care, aged between 3-6, were involved.  Children were given a fermented dairy drink containing a specific probiotic strain or a matching placebo drink which contained no probiotics for 90 consecutive days.  The study was double blind, neither the study coordinators, the children, nor the parents knew which drink was given to which participant until the study ended.  Parents had telephone interviews with researchers during the trial in addition to keeping a daily diary of their child’s health.

Results (1) showed that children taking the probiotic containing drink had a 19% lower rate of common infectious diseases compared to those children drinking the placebo drink.  Specifically, those who drank the probiotic drink had 24% fewer gastrointestinal infections such as diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting and 18% fewer upper respiratory tract infections such as ear infections, sinusitis and throat infections.  To date this is the largest known probiotic clinical trial to be conducted in the United States (2).

Although the results are interesting and worth further investigation the researchers note that there was no reduction in the number school days missed by children taking the probiotic drink.  In a press release (2) one of the authors said “Our study had mixed results,”. “Children in school or daycare are especially susceptible to these illnesses. We did find some differences in infection rates but this did not translate to fewer missed school days or change in daily activity. It is my hope that safe and tolerable ways to reduce illnesses could eventually result in fewer missed school days which means fewer work days missed by parents.” “It is important that more of these products are put under the microscope by independent academic researchers,”.

For more information about probiotics, and also prebiotics (food that stimulates the growth of the beneficial bacteria already present in the colon) please read my previous blog posts.  Any research that may potentially reduce the amount of antibiotics that are prescribed is very much needed.  A recent study (3) published in the British Medical Journal has found that patients whose doctors over-prescribe antibiotics may develop drug resistance that lasts up to a year.  This is dangerous since it puts them and the population at risk when treatment for more serious infection is needed.  The study was a review that included over 24 research trials.  The authors concluded that “Individuals prescribed an antibiotic in primarycare for a respiratory or urinary infection develop bacterialresistance to that antibiotic. The effect is greatest in themonth immediately after treatment but may persist for up to12 months. This effect not only increases the population carriageof organisms resistant to first line antibiotics, but also createsthe conditions for increased use of second line antibioticsin the community”.

It is thought that overuse of antibiotics in Europe and the USA is creating widespread antibiotic resistance which can threaten vital medical treatments.  Antibiotics are vital for all kinds of serious illnesses from cancer therapy to intensive care and post-surgery.  However, if antibiotics are used too often for less serious issues the bacteria start to build up resistance against them, then when they are needed in serious treatment they are less effective.  Multi drug-resistant bacteria have become a growing problem in hospitals worldwide, with the most well known probably being the so called ‘super bug’  MRSA methicillin-resistant Staphyloccus aureus.  The more antibiotics are prescribed for minor illness the more the bacteria will become resistant.  Any treatment that may prevent antibiotic prescription for minor illness is welcomed and I look forward to seeing more research on the use of prebiotics and probiotics for the prevention of colds, flu and minor infection.

(1)Merenstein D et al.  2010. Use of a fermented dairy probiotic drink containing Lactobacillus casei (DN-114 001) to decrease the rate of illness in kids: the DRINK study A patient-oriented, double-blind, cluster-randomized, placebo-controlled, clinical trial. Eur J Clin Nutr, E-Pub prior to print.  May 19, 2010 DOI: 10.1038/ejcn.2010.65

(2)PressRelease Georgetown University Medical Center (2010, May 19). Yogurt-like drink DanActive reduced rate of common infections in daycare children. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 20, 2010, from­ /releases/2010/05/100519081329.htm

(3) Céire Costelloe C et al.  2010.  Effect of antibiotic prescribing in primary care on antimicrobial resistance in individual patients: systematic review and meta-analysis.  BMJ 2010;340:c2096  doi:10.1136/bmj.c2096

Written by Ani Kowal