Updated Cochrane Review on probiotics for treating acute infectious diarrhoea

News article 8 Dec 2020

There is no evidence that probiotics are effective in treating acute infectious diarrhoea, state the authors of this Cochrane review update. Previous editions of the review had suggested they were; but a review update of the evidence, which included new trials, has overturned the review’s previous findings.

A previous version of the Cochrane review, consisting of 63 trials, seemed to show probiotics were effective. In this update, the addition of new trials, including two large well-conducted trials; the finding of substantive publication bias; and the use of GRADE led to a change in the authors’ assessment of effectiveness.

Authors from LSTM, the Philippines, and New Zealand undertook this extensive update of this Cochrane Review looking at the effectiveness of treating acute infectious diarrhoea with probiotics. Acute infectious diarrhoea is a major global disease that particularly affects children in low- and middle-income countries. Acute diarrhoea usually improves within a few days. However, in severe acute diarrhoea the loss of water and salts from the body may be substantial, causing dehydration and even death.

The review authors examined evidence from 82 studies with a total of 12,127 participants, and overall found no difference between taking a probiotic versus a placebo or no additional treatment in shortening the duration of diarrhoea. Senior author Professor Stephen Allen said: “Probiotics made no difference to the number of people with diarrhoea lasting 48 hours or more and the evidence for shortening the duration of diarrhoea was very weak. We hope that our findings will discourage the use of probiotics for acute infectious diarrhoea. This will have beneficial effects in reducing costs and also not detracting from important interventions such as maintaining or improving hydration”.

Collinson S, Deans A, Padua-Zamora A, Gregorio GV, Chao Li, Dans LF, Allen SJ. Probiotics for treating acute infectious diarrhoea. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2020, Issue 12. Art. No.: CD003048. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003048.pub4

This Cochrane Review was co-ordinated by the Cochrane Infectious Diseases Group (CIDG), which has its editorial base at LSTM. The CIDG has been in operation since 1994 and consists of over 600 authors from 52 countries. It is funded by UK aid from the UK government for the benefit of low- and middle-income countries (project number 300342-104). The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the UK government’s official policies.