Chronic constipation affects nearly 3% children in the Western world. Studies also indicate that a number of these children continue to have this problem beyond puberty.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide health benefits in a number of conditions like diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome. They are often consumed in fermented foods like yogurt and include bacteria like lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria.
AdvertisementEarlier studies conducted in adults have demonstrated that a fermented dairy products containing the bacterium Bifidobacterium lactis DN-173 010 improved constipation without any side effects. Probiotics could possibly act in constipation by two mechanisms - one, by correcting the altered gut microflora and two, by altering the pH in the intestines.
A study was recently published that evaluated the use of a fermented milk product containing the same bacterium Bifidobacterium lactis DN-173 010 as well as two other bacteria Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus in children with constipation. The study was conducted in 159 children between February and November 2008. Children in the age-group between 3 and 16 from Netherlands and Poland were included in the study. Some children received the probiotic formulation whereas others were administered an inert substance or placebo for comparison of the effects. The placebo was similar in appearance to the probiotic formulation; thus the patients were unaware whether they were receiving the probiotic or placebo. The probiotic or placebo was administered twice a day for three weeks.
The researchers found that though the stool frequency improved in the probiotic -treated group, it also improved in the placebo group. The difference in stool frequency was not statistically different between the two groups at the end of 3 weeks. There was only a significant decrease in flatulence in the probiotic-treated group. No serious adverse effects were noted in any of the groups.
The researchers thus conclude that based on this study, probiotics cannot be currently recommended to treat constipation in children. They do admit however, that the study had some limitations based on its design. Further studies may be required to establish the role of probiotics in constipation in children.
1. Fermented Milk Containing Bifidobacterium lactis DN-173 010 in Childhood Constipation: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Controlled Trial; Merrit M. Tabbers et al; Pediatrics 2011; 127 (6): pp. e1392 -e1399.