New treatments needed
Most children are treated with a combination of education, toilet training, and laxatives, but only about half of them improve enough to be able to discontinue taking laxatives. Many children also don't tolerate laxatives very well and experience uncomfortable side effects like bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and excessive gas.
Probiotics are living microorganisms that have a beneficial effect on gastrointestinal health. Yogurt and the cultured milk drink, kefir, are the most common dietary sources of probiotics. Research has indicated these "healthy bugs" may help relieve adult constipation but less is known about how they work in children.
The new study looked at 20 constipated children between ages 3 and 16 to see how a supplement containing the probiotic, Bifidobacterium breve, would affect their symptoms after taking it for four weeks. The children (or parents) kept track of their symptoms during the study.
Preliminary proof gives probiotics a thumb's up
While the new trial results need to be confirmed in larger studies, it looks like probiotics may be a promising treatment for children with constipation. After four weeks of taking one hundred million to ten billion CFUs (colony forming units) of Bifidobacterium breve every day, symptoms improved, some of them dramatically. No side effects occurred during probiotic treatment.
What the experts are saying
"Having a child who's suffered from constipation, I can say that it can really take its toll on their overall health," says Erica LePore, naturopathic doctor and mother of three young children. "The pain and discomfort that go along with constipation can be debilitating. I'd feel comfortable giving probiotics a try, even though they haven't been extensively tested in children for this purpose. The fact that they're found naturally in fermented and cultured foods gives me a degree of ease that I might not otherwise have when treating a child for this condition."
(Nutr J 2011;doi:10.1186/1475-2891-10-19)