Probiotics for Diarrhea

Diarrhea can be related to antibiotic use, caused by travelling, food poisoning, or infectious disease. Learn how probiotics work for different types of diarrhea, which strain of probiotics should you get, and how to take them for fast relief.



Diarrhea is a common condition, which is characterized by loose, watery stools with several (at least three) bowel movements per day.

Usually, diarrhea is not serious and is a symptom of infection or irritation in your digestive tract. There are several common causes of diarrhea:

  • Infection (with parasites, viruses or bacteria)
  • Traveler's diarrhea
  • Diarrhea due to antibiotic treatment
  • Diarrhea, which is caused by a gastroenterological condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, etc
  • Diarrhea, caused by chemotherapy, allergy, or food intolerance

Most cases of acute diarrhea usually clear up on their own within a couple of days. Most important thing that you can do during this time is to replenish lost fluids by drinking lots of water and unsweetened herbal tea. You might also want to consider consuming electrolyte-rich beverages to regain some of the lost electrolytes and salts.

You should seek medical help as soon as possible if you notice any of the following:

  • Fresh blood in stool or black, tarry stools
  • Fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
  • Severe pain or cramps in the abdomen
  • Your diarrhea lasts more than three days

Diarrhea in children can quickly lead to dehydration, so you should be extra careful that your child gets plenty of fluids and watch for signs of dehydration (extreme sleepiness, very dry skin, mouth, mucous membranes, extreme thirst, very little or no urination).

How Do Probiotics Help With Diarrhea?

Probiotics are live, friendly bacteria that help maintain a healthy balance in the gut. They can be beneficial in different types of diarrhea.

Diarrhea Due to Antibiotic Treatment

Antibiotics are given to fight bacterial infections. They are able to kill off pathogenic (disease causing) bacteria and enable the body to recover. At the same time, though, they also diminish the beneficial bacteria in our gut.

Side effects of antibiotic treatment often include disrupted intestinal flora, abdominal pain or discomfort, gas, and diarrhea. It is estimated that diarrhea happens in 25% to 30% of all patients taking antibiotics.

The research results on probiotics and antibiotic-associated diarrhea are conflicting.

There were several studies that have independently shown positive effects of probiotic supplements on antibiotic-related diarrhea.  These studies suggested that probiotics help prevent the occurrence of antibiotic diarrhea and relieve the severity of symptoms if a person is already experiencing diarrhea.

Especially promising in these studies seemed 2 type of probiotics: Lactobacillus GG and a probiotic yeast, Saccharomyces boulardii.

Studies have also indicated another interesting thing, which relates to the Clostridium difficile infection. This infection sometimes occurs in patients with antibiotic diarrhea. It is especially difficult to treat and tends to be reoccurring.   

Many studies on probiotics benefits have found that probiotics (particularly S. boulardii) may help prevent the development of C. difficile infection.

In 2013 came the PLACIDE study. This was a large, randomized and placebo controlled study that involved nearly 3.000 patients (half were given placebo, and the other half were given probiotic preparation).

This study, however, showed completely opposite results to all previous studies – they found no positive effect of probiotics on antibiotic-related diarrhea. Furthermore, they have also discovered that in study subjects probiotics did not prevent the occurrence of C. difficile infection.

Of course, the PLACIDE study has its own limitations – the main being age of test subjects (all were above 65 years old) and low ethnic diversity.

In the end, it is hard to say conclusively whether or not probiotic supplements help with antibiotic-related diarrhea. Anecdotal evidence points to yes and many doctors routinely recommend probiotic supplements to their patients who are starting a course of antibiotics.

 However, the fact remains that experts and studies seem to be in disagreement. So, it is up to each person to decide for themselves whether or not they might want to try to fight antibiotic diarrhea with the help of probiotics.

Infectious Diarrhea

Infectious diarrhea is caused by a viral or bacterial infection. One common cause of diarrhea in children and small babies is rotavirus. Studies show that probiotics may help treat diarrhea and shorten its duration (on average for one day).

Probiotic strains that were found most beneficial for infectious diarrhea were Lactobacillus casei, Saccharomyces boulardii, and Lactobacillus rhamnosus.

Traveler’s Diarrhea

Traveler’s diarrhea is diarrhea that is a result of ingesting disease-causing bacteria (either from food or beverage) during travel.

There were limited studies for the use of probiotics in traveler’s diarrhea. Results of these studies suggest that probiotics may help prevent the development of traveler’s diarrhea. However, once it already happens, they don’t seem to offer any help.

How To Take Probiotics For Relieving Diarrhea?

Probiotics are best taken with meal as the food that you ingest protects the live bacteria from gastrointestinal juices (stomach acid and bile in the intestine).

If you have diarrhea, it is best if you follow the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast). Your diet may also include other bland, mild foods that don’t further upset your digestive system.

Don’t take probiotics with hot drink or hot food as they are vulnerable to heat.

There are several special probiotic supplements that are specifically formulated for replenishing gastrointestinal flora. You might want to read about them in our article Top Probiotic Supplements.

If You Are Taking Probiotics For Antibiotic Associated Diarrhea

Many health care professionals recommend that you start taking a probiotic supplement as soon as you go on a course of antibiotics.

Don’t wait till you finish your antibiotics before starting with probiotic supplements – take probiotics as soon as you go on antibiotic course!

There should be at least a 2 hour gap between taking probiotic and antibiotic. This way you make sure that some amount of probiotic bacteria that you consume survives the effect of antibiotic.



Sources and References: 
Studies: 
  1. Efficacy and safety of the probiotic Saccharomyces boulardii for the prevention and therapy of gastrointestinal disorders. Theodoros Kelesidis. Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology. 2012 Mar. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3296087/
  2. Probiotics in the treatment and prevention of acute infectious diarrhea in infants and children: a systematic review of published randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials.Szajewska H1, Mrukowicz JZ. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition. 2001 Oct. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11698781
  3. Probiotics for children with diarrhea: an update. Guandalini S.Probiotics for children with diarrhea: an update. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology. 2008 Jul. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18520336
  4. Probiotics for prevention and treatment of diarrhea.Guandalini S. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology. 2011 Nov. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21992955
  5. Lactobacilli and bifidobacteria in the prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea and Clostridium difficile diarrhoea in older inpatients (PLACIDE): a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicentre trial. Prof Stephen J Allen, MD et al. 2013 Avg. The Lancet. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2813%2961218-0/fulltext

Supplements commonly used for Diarrhea:

Probiotics

Diarrhea is a common condition, which is characterized by loose, watery stools with several (at least three) bowel movements per day.

Usually, diarrhea is not serious and is a symptom of... read more…

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