Between 10 and 15% of school-aged children suffer from recurrent abdominal pain. Yet little evidence exists to date for helpful medications or dietary changes, Dr Ruggiero Francavilla of the University of Bari, in Italy, said.
Given recent research hinting at the therapeutic value of probiotics for adults with irritable bowel syndrome, Dr Francavilla and his team wanted to see if lactobacillus GG might benefit the paediatric population too.
They studied 141 Italian children between the ages of five and 14 suffering from functional abdominal pain, mostly resulting from irritable bowel syndrome. They randomly assigned each child to daily doses of either Lactobacillus rhamnosus strain GG, or a placebo for eight weeks.
At the end of the treatment period, L. rhamnosus GG significantly reduced the frequency and intensity of the kids' stomach pain (P<0.01), which was the primary outcome, report the researchers.
While both groups averaged about four stomach aches per week prior to the study, frequencies fell to about one per week for kids taking the probiotics and two per week for those on the placebo.
Based on a 10-point scale, with 10 being worst, the average level of pain reported before treatment was 4.3 in both groups. These scores dropped to 2.3 and 3.4, respectively, for kids in the treatment and placebo groups.
Further, the researchers found that the effects of the probiotic lasted at least another eight weeks beyond completion of the study treatment (P< 0.02), although they note that the probiotic's pain-relieving benefits could still wane and require repeated use to maintain the effect.
L. rhamnosus GG is widely available at drug stores and sold online, generally costing less than a dollar per daily dose.
"Lactobacillus rhamnosus strain GG is one of the best-studied probiotic bacteria in clinical trials for treating and preventing several intestinal disorders and is widely available in different countries," said Dr Francavilla.
It involved children
He added that his team conducted the study with children recruited through their paediatricians in a wide range of communities in southern Italy, so the results could be applicable to the general population.
No other strain of probiotic is currently a valid alternative for this particular condition, Dr Francavilla noted. "Probiotics are not all the same and should not be used deliberately for all the possible indications; we are entering the era of targeted probiotic use," he said.
To fully achieve the specific benefit of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG for abdominal pain, Dr Francavilla advises taking the probiotic long-term or for at least eight weeks.