Are probiotics the answer to gastroenteritis?

Back to school and the arrival of fall weather often coincide with the reappearance of viruses, especially those responsible for stomach flu, or gastroenteritis, as it is also known. Do probiotics help prevent stomach flu in children? Or can they at least cure it faster? Read on to find out more.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are good bacteria or yeasts that are sold in the form of supplements or enriched foods like yogurt or fermented milk. Most of the products available in Canada contain one or more strains of bacteria from the Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium genus, or yeast from the Saccharomyces genus.

How effective are they against gastroenteritis?

There have been numerous studies conducted—with more currently underway—to gain greater insight into the various effects of probiotics on human health. For the moment, the research shows a certain efficacy in preventing and treating diarrhea caused by infections such as gastroenteritis.

In studies on children, the duration of infectious diarrhea was 17 to 30 hours shorter in the children who received probiotics than in those who didn’t. For optimal effect, the probiotics should be taken as early as possible, ideally within 48 hours of the onset of stomach flu.

With regard to the use of probiotics to prevent gastroenteritis, the findings are relatively modest, which is why the Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that probiotics be used as a preventive measure primarily among children in daycare settings who experience recurrent gastroenteritis.

Which probiotic to use?

The effects of probiotics appear to be strain-specific. In other words, a product that contains strain X may be effective while another that contains strain Y may be entirely ineffective.

Research in this field is ongoing, and new products regularly appear on the shelves, which is why you should ask your pharmacist to help you choose the right product to treat infectious diarrhea caused by stomach flu.

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