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Eur J Public Health. 2019 Jun 1;29(3):494-499. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/cky185.

Does probiotic consumption reduce antibiotic utilization for common acute infections? A systematic review and meta-analysis.

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Cambridge, UK.
University of California, Davis, CA, USA.
University of Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA.
International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics.
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL, USA.
Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA, USA.



Overall reduction of antibiotic use is a widely adopted public health goal. Given evidence that consuming probiotics reduce the incidence, duration and/or severity of certain types of common acute infections, we hypothesized that probiotics are associated with reduced antibiotic use. This systematic review of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) assessed the impact of probiotic supplementation (any strain, dose or duration), compared to placebo, on antibiotic utilization for common, acute infections in otherwise healthy people of all ages.


We searched 13 electronic databases including MEDLINE, Embase and CENTRAL from inception to 17th January 2017. Backward and forward citation searches were also conducted. Two reviewers independently selected studies for inclusion and extracted study data. We assessed risk of bias for individual studies using criteria adapted from the Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, and the quality of evidence for each outcome was assessed using the GRADE system. Studies that evaluated similar outcomes were pooled statistically in meta-analyses using a random-effects model.


We screened 1533 citations, and of these, 17 RCTs met our predefined inclusion criteria. All 17 were conducted in infants and/or children with a primary aim of preventing acute respiratory tract infections, acute lower digestive tract infections or acute otitis media. Included studies used 13 probiotic formulations, all comprising single or combination Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium delivered in a range of food or supplement products. Mean duration of probiotic supplementation ranged from 4 days to 9 months. Trial quality was variable. Meta-analysis demonstrated that infants and children who received probiotics to prevent acute illnesses had a lower risk of being prescribed antibiotics, relative to those who received placebo (Pooled Relative Risk = 0.71, 95% CI: 0.54-0.94). When restricted to five studies with a low risk of bias, the pooled relative risk was 0.46 (95% CI: 0.23-0.97). Significant statistical heterogeneity was present in effect size estimates, which appeared to be due to one trial which could partly be considered as an outlier.


Probiotics, provided to reduce the risk for common acute infections, may be associated with reduced antibiotic use in infants and children. Additional well-designed studies are needed to substantiate these findings in children and explore similar findings in other population groups.

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