Probiotics can treat colic

Can probiotics really help babies with colic? A recent study suggests it might, stating that infants who are given a probiotic in the first three months of life seem to experience fewer colic symptoms. We talked to Dr. Mark Corkins, medical director of Pediatric Gastroenterology at Le Bonheur, and asked him to weigh in on this study.

What does this study mean?

Colic is one of those problems that have puzzled us for a long time. Here’s what we know:

  • Infants can’t really communicate other than by crying. So babies that cry more than usual are trying to tell us something is wrong, but we have to figure out the cause.
  • Some infants with “colic” have a formula protein allergy, studies show. They improve with a low-allergy formula.
  • This study shows that some infants (probably not all colic babies) have a problem with the bacteria that colonized their GI tract. We all have millions of bacteria that live in our GI tract. This is normal, and they actually do things for us like make vitamin K and block infectious agents from getting to the lining.

How do probiotics help with gut symptoms?

The “good” bacteria in a probiotic would displace other bacteria in the GI tract. Bacteria make all sorts of products and affect how the GI tract works. The assumption would be that bacteria that were in the gut were causing some sort of reaction -- perhaps they caused extra contractions (sensed as cramps); maybe they blocked the digestion of something or digested something themselves differently than normal; or maybe they directly caused discomfort by something they produced. Lots of different paths have been seen in the research labs, but we are still sorting this out in real patients.

How can you give probiotics to a newborn? Older child?

We are colonized with bacteria at birth, so it’s not like these are new to our gut. We are just picking the bacteria ourselves rather than letting fate pick, when we eat probiotics. There are now infant formulas that contain probiotics. There are good studies that show probiotics given to older children with diarrhea shorten the course of the illness.

baby, infant, medicine