British Journal of Nutrition

Full Papers

Clinical effects of probiotics: scientific evidence from a paediatric perspective

Olle Hernella1 c1 and Christina E. Westa1

a1 Department of Clinical Sciences, Pediatrics, Umeå University, S-901 85 Umeå, Sweden


Probiotics are live micro-organisms that when given in adequate amounts can cause health benefits. The safety and efficacy of probiotics in the prevention and treatment of various clinical conditions have been evaluated in randomised controlled clinical trials, systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Generally, their safety has been documented. As a supplement to standard rehydration therapy, probiotics have been demonstrated to shorten the duration of diarrhoea resulting from acute viral gastroenteritis and in preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhoea in healthy children. Preliminary evidence suggests that probiotics might prevent necrotising enterocolitis in very-low-birth-weight infants, but further studies are needed before definite conclusions can be drawn. Probiotics have also been assessed in the treatment and prevention of allergic disease but the results, although promising, need further confirmation. Targeting a paediatric population, probiotics have been evaluated in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, Helicobacter pylori gastritis and infantile colic, but at this stage, there is no evidence to support their routine use for these indications. There is a great need for studies aiming at disentangling the mechanisms by which probiotics mediate their clinical effects and for comparative studies between various probiotic bacteria. We still need to know which probiotic(s) to use and for which indications. A clearer message on dosages, optimal timing and duration of administration is needed. For this purpose, more carefully designed and sufficiently powered, randomised controlled trials with predefined outcomes are needed.


c1 Corresponding author: O. Hernell, email email


  Abbreviations: ESPGHAN, European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology Hepatology and Nutrition; LGG, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG; LoE, level of evidence; NEC, necrotising enterocolitis; RCT, randomised controlled trials; RR, relative risk; URTI, upper respiratory tract infections