If You’re Down With A Stomach Bug, This Common Treatment Might Not Actually Help

by Mika Doyle

Probiotics have gotten a lot of hype in recent years as science discovers more about the role our gut biome plays in keeping us healthy. But if you've taken to consuming more probiotics if you're down with a stomach bug, you might want to rethink that remedy, according to The New York Times. It’s not that it’s harmful; it’s just probably not doing anything for you at all, a new study says.

Taking probiotics in pills, yogurts, powders, and other forms, says The New York Times, is a well-known remedy for treating gastroenteritis, or inflammation of the stomach and intestines caused by either a virus or bacteria — aka, that stomach bug that’s making you feel like total crap. But a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has found that taking probiotics won't help you get better faster.

The researchers tested two popular probiotic pills on children who presented at the emergency room with typical symptoms of gastroenteritis, says The New York Times, which are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, stomach pain, and cramps. The children were randomly assigned a five-day treatment course of Lactobacillus rhamnosus, which is a commonly studied probiotic, or a placebo, according to The New York Times. The children got better at the same rate regardless of whether they were given probiotics or placebos, says The New York Times.

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"We have shown in two very large and rigorous studies that these particular probiotics do not work. They had no effect," David Schnadower, a professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, told NPR.

The thought behind using probiotics to treat stomach bugs, says NPR, is that they’ll introduce beneficial bacteria that will help the body fight off the bacteria that’s making you sick. But the researchers say these findings indicate using probiotics to fend off stomach bugs is an ineffective treatment option, NPR reports.

So if you can’t take probiotics to treat a stomach bug, what are your other options? Well, if your gastroenteritis is caused by a virus, there aren’t really any specific medical treatments, says Mayo Clinic. Give your tummy a rest by not eating solid food for a few hours, says Mayo Clinic, and try sucking on ice cubs or taking small sips of water. If your stomach can handle it, Mayo Clinic suggests drinking clear soda, clear broths, or noncaffeinated sports drinks so you stay hydrated. And make sure you get plenty of rest, says Mayo Clinic.

Bacterial gastroenteritis is usually caused by food poisoning, according to Medical News Today. Food poisoning usually gets better on its own, says Medical News Today, but you can treat your symptoms the same way you treat viral gastroenteritis. However, if your symptoms don’t get better or you get too dehydrated with either type of gastroenteritis, you should go see your doctor.

Dragana Gordic

“The bad news is we don’t have a magic pill that will make the diarrhea and vomiting go away sooner,” Dr. Stephen Freedman, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary, told Reuters. “The good news is hopefully consumers are now informed and health care professionals can focus on therapies that have evidence of benefit.”

You can still keep consuming your probiotics if you feel you’re benefitting from them. Just know that they’re probably not helping you get better any faster if you’ve come down with an icky stomach bug.