Antibiotic treatment can kill the “good” bacteria in your gut. Without the presence of good bacteria, bad bacteria may start to grow. This may result in complications, the most serious of which is Clostridium difficile–associated diarrhea. The risk for severe antibiotic-associated diarrhea is rare; the risk is likely less than 5% for most people. Your risk is higher if:
- You are old and frail
- You taking certain antibiotics (i.e. clindamycin) at higher doses for longer periods
- You are hospitalized
- You have a weaker immune system
Some research has shown that the benefits of probiotics may extend to the gut; that is, probiotics may prevent diarrhea caused by antibiotics. A 2012 publication in the the Annals of Internal Medicine summarized the research to date:
Methods: The study collected data from drug trials that included adults or children patients receiving antibiotics. Each trial compared a specific probiotic to placebo or no treatment. The researchers wanted to determine if probiotics prevented antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
Results: The study analyzed data from 3818 patients. Probiotics reduced the incidence of antibiotic-associated diarrhea by 66%. So, according to the study, if you risk of experiencing diarrhea is 5%, taking probiotics will reduce your risk of diarrhea to about 1.7%.
Conclusion: “Evidence suggests that probiotics results in a large reduction in [antibiotic-associated diarrhea] without an increase in clinically important adverse events.”
Benefits of Probiotics for Diarrhea: Bottom Line
While the study showed that probiotics reduce the risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhea by greater than 60%, most people who take antibiotics will not experience severe diarrhea. So, most people who take probiotics for the prevention of antibiotics side effects will not experience a benefit. Nevertheless, most probiotics are inexpensive. They are safe for most people. If you have risk factors for diarrhea, consider taking a probiotic during your antibiotic treatment.
The authors of the study noted that probiotic-containing yogurt is likely just as effective as the more expensive probiotic supplements.
Bradley C. Johnston, Stephanie S. Ma, Joshua Z. Goldenberg, Kristian Thorlund, Per O. Vandvik, Mark Loeb, Gordon H. Guyatt; Probiotics for the Prevention of Clostridium difficile–Associated Diarrhea A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2012 Nov.