Probiotics Help Prevent Antibiotic-Related Diarrhea
'Good' bacteria helps with a bad side effect
June 26, 2012 by: Nissa Simon for: AARP Bulletin
If you've ever taken antibiotics, you may know they sometimes deliver a nasty surprise: Nearly one in three people who are prescribed antibiotics develops diarrhea as a side effect.
But a new study, published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests a potential solution: Researchers found that people who took probiotics — a supplement with beneficial bacteria — along with their prescribed antibiotics were 42 percent less likely to develop diarrhea.
Here's what happens: Antibiotics indiscriminately wipe out both illness-causing bad bacteria and the good bacteria that naturally live in the gut and help keep the digestive tract in good working order. Over-the-counter probiotic supplements — acidophilus pills, for example — can replace the good bacteria.
Researchers analyzed the results of 63 studies involving nearly 12,000 people who needed antibiotic treatment, comparing those who took probiotic pills with those taking either a dummy pill or nothing. Although the researchers couldn't tell whether one type of probiotic bacteria was better than another, probiotics were clearly effective at preventing diarrhea.
The researchers did not compare
the effectiveness of different types of supplements, says review coauthor Sydne Newberry, a nutritional scientist and researcher at
But even with these
uncertainties, the review is helpful, says nutrition specialist Caroline Apovian, M.D., director of the Nutrition and
Because the majority of studies looked at preventing diarrhea rather than treating it once it began, Newberry recommends that patients begin taking a probiotic before starting their antibiotic medication.
For those who prefer to get their probiotics by eating yogurt, keep in mind that some yogurt is heat-treated to reduce tartness or extend shelf life, which kills the beneficial bacteria, Apovian says. To get the full benefit of yogurt's good bacteria, look for a label with "live active cultures."