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Digestive health centre

Probiotics

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Introduction

This information is for people who have a child with constipation. It tells you about probiotics, a treatment used for constipation in children. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Do they work?

We're not sure. There hasn't been enough research to be able to say for certain. Different studies have had different results.

What are they?

We all have bacteria living in our bowels. Some of these bacteria are helpful, and help you to digest food. They're sometimes called 'friendly' bacteria. They stop harmful bacteria from growing in your bowels.

Taking probiotics helps to keep your levels of 'friendly' bacteria topped up. Enough of the bacteria survive your stomach acid to start growing in your bowels. [45]

There are lots of probiotic products around, often sold as yoghurts. You can also get them as pills or capsules.

How can they help?

We found two studies looking at whether probiotics can help children with constipation. In one study, looking at the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri , children taking the probiotic passed more stools. [46] However, a summary of the evidence, called a systematic review, looked at two other studies, which found taking the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus made no difference. [29]

And another more recent study, which looked at another probiotic called Bifidobacterium lactis, found the same. [47]

We need bigger studies to find out whether probiotics really can help children with constipation. But the research up to now suggests that they may not help much.

How do they work?

Probiotics top up the friendly bacteria in your bowels. But we don't know whether this reduces constipation in children.

Can they be harmful?

Because probiotics are similar to bacteria that live naturally in your bowels, they are unlikely to cause harm. But it's a good idea to check with your doctor before trying this treatment, especially if your child has other health problems. Also, bear in mind that probiotics are sold as supplements and aren't checked for quality and safety in the same way that medicines are.

How good is the research on probiotics

There's not enough research to know whether or not probiotics help children with constipation. We found several studies looking at this question. They looked at different probiotics and had different results. But most of the studies found that probiotics didn't really help. We need more research to find out for sure. [46] [29] [47]

Glossary

systematic reviews

A systematic review is a thorough look through published research on a particular topic. Only studies that have been carried out to a high standard are included. A systematic review may or may not include a meta-analysis, which is when the results from individual studies are put together.

For more terms related to Constipation in children

Citations

For references related to Constipation in children click here.
Last Updated: June 20, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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