Prebiotics may protect against travellers’ diarrhoea: Study

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Diarrhoea, Probiotic, Professor glenn gibson

Supplements of a prebiotic galactooligosaccharide mixture may reduce the incidence of travellers’ diarrhoea by about 34 per cent, says a new study from the UK.

Twenty-four per cent of people receiving a daily supplement of Clasado’s patented galactooligosaccharide mixture suffered from travellers’ diarrhoea, compared to 37 per cent in the placebo group, say findings published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition​.

Furthermore, the duration of the diarrhoea was also reduced in the prebiotic group, lasting an average of only 2.4 days, compared to 4.6 days in people in the placebo group, report researchers from the Department of Food Biosciences at the University of Reading, and Clasado Ltd.

Holiday worries

Whether it’s Delhi belly or Spanish tummy, travellers’ diarrhoea is one of the most common conditions experienced by tourists and is estimated to affect over 11 million people every year.

According to a 1983 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association​ (JAMA), 90 per cent of people affected display symptoms for travellers’ diarrhoea within the first two weeks of travel (JAMA​ 1983, Vol.249:, pp. 1176-1180).

“We all know to take sun cream on holiday to protect our skin, but you won’t need it if you are stuck on the loo for the two weeks!”​ said co-author Professor Glenn Gibson from the University of Reading. “Taking a simple supplement to help prevent diarrhoea may soon become part of our normal holiday routine.

“The great thing about prebiotics is they are safe and have no side effects, whereas taking medication like antibiotics when you get diarrhoea can damage your gut flora even more,”​ he added.

Clasado’s prebiotic has been hailed as 'second generation', since it not only boosts probiotic bacteria at a group level, but also offers additional functionality by inhibiting the adhesion of 'bad' bacteria to the gut wall.

Study details

For the new placebo-controlled, randomized, double blind of parallel study, the researchers recruited 159 healthy volunteers travelling for at least two weeks to a country of low or high risk for travellers’ diarrhoea. The subjects were randomly assigned to receive either the galactooligosaccharide supplement or a maltodextrin placebo for one week prior to leaving on holiday, and for the duration of their holiday.

On returning home, the participants completed a questionnaire. The data showed significant differences between the prebiotic and placebo groups in the incidence and duration of travellers’ diarrhoea.

Additionally, an improvement in self-reported abdominal pain was reported by the participants, with prebiotic-receiving people reporting an average of two days abdominal pain, compared to almost four days for people in the placebo group.

The research also has implications for non-tourists, said Prof Gibson. “Our research in this area also has possible applications for the military and for athletes where a supplement could be taken to reduce the incidence and severity of diarrhoea, thereby enhancing performance,”​ he said.

Probiotic potential

A growing body of science is also linking probiotics to a reduction in diarrhoea in various age-groups, from the very young to the very old. A study with Danone's probiotics found that probiotic-containing drinks may help reduce diarrhoea among older people receiving antibiotics (British Medical Journal​, Vol. 335: doi:10.1136/bmj.39231.599815.55).

Source: European Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2009.120
“A double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized human study assessing the capacity of a novel galacto-oligosaccharide mixture in reducing travellers' diarrhoea”
Authors: A. Drakoularakou, G. Tzortzis, R.A. Rastall, G.R. Gibson

Disclaimer: The above article has been corrected. In the original version we stated that the incidence of diarrhoea was reduce by 13 per cent. It is 34 per cent. Apologies

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