This is a question we often receive in our practice. There is limited data from clinical research on the effectiveness of probiotics and these are not standardized formulations. However, there are some probiotic preparations with promise in preventing or treating various conditions.

For people with inflammatory bowel disease, such as Ulcerative Colitis, they have found to have some benefit. They are especially helpful to reduce infections in people with ulcerative colitis who have a pouch after surgery.

Probiotics have also been found through clinical research to reduce antibiotic associated with diarrhea in adults and children. They have been shown to reduce the duration of viral diarrhea in children. In adults, there is some evidence that probiotics during the course of antibiotics for other illnesses may reduce the incidence of cdiff (clostridium difficile) infections in the colon. In these instances, we recommend taking the probiotic at least 2 hours after the antibiotic dose.

For people with diverticular disease, probiotics have been found to be beneficial when there is inflammation in the colon. Constipation can sometimes be improved with daily probiotics, but, there is not strong clinical research evidence to support this use. When choosing a probiotic, we recommend a formulation with several probiotic strains. The refrigerated probiotics such as VSL # 3 or Florajen 3 seem to be most effective for people with IBD. Nonrefrigerated formulations such as Risaquad, Culturelle or Align seem to be effective for other people in my practice.

Sylvia M. Oats, MSN, APRN, ANP-BC