There are those of us who suffer chronic diarrhea. While chronic diarrhea is usually caused by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) it can also have other serious causes. Consult with your doctor if you’ve been experiencing diarrhea for a long time.
This article is meant for those who occasionally suffer from diarrhea. While time can usually take care of loose, watery stools, you may be able to shorten that time with probiotics. Let’s take a look at the clinical research on whether or not probiotics are good for diarrhea
What Causes Acute Diarrhea?
Diarrhea is characterized by cramps, abdominal pain, and loose, watery stools. Acute diarrhea, which refers to diarrhea lasting no longer than four days, is fairly common with an estimated 48 million cases of food-borne diarrheal illness reported in the United States every year.1 Acute diarrhea is typically infectious and can easily spread. However, cases of acute diarrhea can have diverse causes.
Acute diarrhea is most commonly caused by bacterial, viral, or parasitic infections. Acute diarrhea most often comes as a result of viral gastroenteritis, involving inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract by an invasive virus. In adults, this usually comprises norovirus, while children are more susceptible to rotavirus.2
Traveler’s diarrhea comes from consuming food or drink contaminated with bacteria or virus, usually while traveling in developing countries. While this form of diarrhea is usually acute, certain types of traveler’s diarrhea caused by parasites may result in diarrhea symptoms that last much longer.1
Diarrhea may also come as a side effect of certain types of medication. For example, magnesium can cause diarrhea and antibiotics usage often disrupts the gut microbiome which causes diarrhea.1 Probiotics have been proven to be helpful for antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
Do Probiotics Help with Diarrhea?
Probiotics have been studied for several years for their potential to treat or reduce symptoms of diarrhea. Most of these studies focus on acute onset diarrhea as opposed to chronic cases of diarrhea. In spite of the diverse causes of acute diarrhea, meta-studies and trials have generally found a statistically significant benefit in treating acute watery diarrhea with probiotics, particularly those cases cause by rotavirus.3
Probiotics for Infectious Diarrhea
In one meta-study, researchers looked at 63 studies involving the use of probiotics for infectious forms of diarrhea. Comprising over 8,000 participants, the results of these studies showed that probiotics shortened the illness by about one day on average. The studies showed that about 55 percent of participants were diarrhea-free after three days of treatment with probiotics, while just 34 percent of those who did not take probiotics showed no symptoms after three days.4
A meta-study evaluated the effectiveness of probiotics in cases of traveler’s diarrhea. The results from 12 different studies showed that probiotics significantly reduced traveler’s diarrhea. This applied to several strains of probiotics, but primarily Saccharomyces boulardii and combinations of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum.6
Another meta-study looked at the relationship between childhood diarrhea and Lactobacillus probiotic strains. Identifying nine studies, researchers noted reductions in diarrhea duration by 0.7 days in children who had received a Lactobacillus probiotic supplement. Results also showed a reduction in diarrhea frequency by 1.6 stools on the second day of treatment. This suggests that Lactobacillus is a safe and effective treatment for children with acute diarrhea.7
Probiotics for Antibiotic Associated Diarrhea
In another systematic review, researchers evaluated the effectiveness of probiotics in preventing diarrhea associated with antibiotic use. While antibiotics are effective in treating bacterial infections, they may harm natural gut bacteria populations, potentially resulting in diarrhea and other digestive issues. The meta-analysis found that antibiotic-associated diarrhea was present in just 8 percent of those who took probiotics, while 17.7 percent in the control group exhibited antibiotics-associated diarrhea. This suggests that probiotics reduce diarrhea caused by antibiotics by 50%.5
What to Look for in the Best Probiotic for Diarrhea
Maintaining a diverse gut microflora may be beneficial for your general digestive health, but the best probiotic for diarrhea should specifically contain strains of Saccharomyces boulardii and Lactobacillus acidophilus. S. boulardii has been found to significantly reduce the duration and frequency of acute diarrhea, while also improving the overall consistency of the stool.8 Oral supplementation of L. acidophilus, which is one of the most well-studied probiotic strains, was similarly found to potentially reduce diarrhea duration and frequency.9 Both strains are also known to be safe with little, if any, negative side effects.
Along with specific probiotic strains, look at the CFUs in your probiotic. CFUs, or colony forming units, measure the amount of active bacterial strains in the supplement. A meta-study published in The Lancet showed that a median dose of 6 billion CFUs per day reduced antibiotic-associated diarrhea by 52 percent, traveler’s diarrhea by 8 percent, and acute diarrhea caused by other factors by 34 percent.10 For diarrhea, we recommend a probiotic supplement containing at least 10 billion CFUs.
How fast do probiotics work for diarrhea?
The speed at which probiotics take effect can vary based on the probiotic strains, the CFU dosage, and your own metabolism, meaning it may not always be an instant fix. You can generally expect probiotics to reduce your diarrhea duration by about half a day to two days on average.11
Probiotics may play an essential role in reducing the frequency, duration, and severity of diarrhea. If you think you could benefit from probiotics for diarrhea, consider incorporating a dietary supplement, like DrFormulas® Nexabiotic® which contains 17.25 billion CFUs of 23 probiotic strains including Saccharomyces boulardii and Lactobacillus acidophilus.