MADELEINE BRAND, host:
From NPR News, this is DAY TO DAY.
Colic is a new parents nightmare. It means a crying, fussy baby - a baby that really can't be consoled no matter what you do. But there is a new treatment that looks promising. Dr. Sydney Spiesel is here to tell us about it. He sees a lot of fussy babies in his pediatrics practice, and he also reviews medical research for us and the online magazine, Slate. And, Syd, welcome back to DAY TO DAY.
Dr. SYDNEY SPIESEL (Medical Columnist, Slate; Pediatrician): Thanks. Always nice to be here.
BRAND: Well, I know you see a lot of parents who are really at the end of their ropes. They don't know what to do. They've tried everything to soothe their baby. And why is colic so mysterious?
Dr. SPIESEL: Colic is a kind of awful fussiness that some babies have, and the number is unclear. It maybe as many as perhaps a quarter of all babies. It starts at about two to three weeks of age, and it lasts for about three months. It's a nighttime fussiness - crying and they're miserable, and it looks like they're in great pain, but it doesn't harm them. They grow very well, despite the fact that they're colicky. But it drives parents to despair because it's just so awful to have a kid that you love that you can't help.
BRAND: Oh, that sounds so, so familiar. Anyway, you write in your latest column in Slate that there's a new study that could give us all hope.
Dr. SPIESEL: Well, it's very preliminary, but it's very promising. Pediatricians at the University of Turin in Italy took a product which is called a probiotic and administered it to half of a group of about a little over 80 kids. And he gave the other half a medicine which is widely used for colic, but which everybody knows is almost useless.
And the difference was very impressive. You could tell a difference, a statistically significant difference after a week had passed. And by the time four weeks had passed, the difference was phenomenal. Ninety-five percent of the kids treated with the probiotic were improved, whereas only 7 percent of the kids treated with the gas drops improved.
BRAND: The researchers who conducted the study, what is their hypothesis as to how the probiotics work?
Dr. SPIESEL: They didn't have a very clear hypothesis. My hypothesis about how it works - it's known that the probiotic changes the balance of bacteria in the bowel. There's a - the bacteria in the bowel represent a very wide mix of things. And some of them ferment lactose, which is the sugar that's found in milk. And when lactose is fermented, it produces gas and a lot of irritating byproducts. And my own guess is that these bacteria that are part of the probiotic overgrow, it may block the overgrowth of the gas-producing organisms.
BRAND: So does this give further evidence to parents who have long suspected that the problem with colic lies in the gut?
Dr. SPIESEL: It increases my belief that that's true. This probiotics - it certainly it seems to act in the gut. And one would think that if it acts in the gut that's where the problem is. But we don't know the true answer because it's so hard to study the question.
BRAND: So do you recommend that parents go out and buy some probiotics and give them to their infants?
Dr. SPIESEL: Oh, no, no. It's way too early to do that. First of all, it's unclear what probiotics will be helpful. This is the first preliminary study, but it's pretty small. It's - there were only 83 kids involved here. Time will sort this out, and it's very promising and very exciting, but it's way too soon to just try something at random.
BRAND: Opinion from Dr. Sydney Spiesel. He's a practicing pediatrician, and he's also affiliated with the Yale Medical School. You can read his Medical Examiner column at Slate.com.
Thanks again, Syd.
Dr. SPIESEL: Thank you.