Are probiotics or prebiotics useful in pediatric irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease?

Front Med (Lausanne). 2014 Aug 28:1:23. doi: 10.3389/fmed.2014.00023. eCollection 2014.


Treatment options for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are notoriously either inadequate (IBS) or loaded with potentially serious side effects and risks (IBD). In recent years, a growing interest in effective and safer alternatives has focused on the potential role of probiotics and their metabolic substrates, prebiotics. It is in fact conceivable that the microbiome might be targeted by providing the metabolic fuel needed for the growth and expansion of beneficial microorganisms (prebiotics) or by administering to the host such microorganisms (probiotics). This review presents a concise update on currently available data, with a special emphasis on children. Data for prebiotics in IBS are scarce. Low doses have shown a beneficial effect, while high doses are counterproductive. On the contrary, several controlled trials of probiotics have yielded encouraging results. A meta-analysis including nine randomized clinical trials in children showed an improvement in abdominal pain for Lactobacillus GG, Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938, and the probiotic mixture VSL#3. The patients most benefiting from probiotics were those with predominant diarrhea or with a post-infectious IBS. In IBD, the use of prebiotics has been tested only rarely and in small scale clinical trials, with mixed results. As for probiotics, data in humans from about three dozens clinical trials offer mixed outcomes. So far, none of the tested probiotics has proven successful in Crohn's disease, while in ulcerative colitis a recent meta-analysis on 12 clinical trials (1 of them in children) showed efficacy for the probiotic mixture VSL#3 in contributing to induce and to maintain remission. It is evident that this is a rapidly evolving and promising field; more data are very likely to yield a better understanding on what strains should be used in different specific clinical settings and in what doses.

Keywords: Crohn’s disease; Lactobacillus; VSL#3; functional gastrointestinal disorders; inflammatory bowel disease; irritable bowel syndrome; probiotics; ulcerative colitis.

Publication types

  • Review