Skip to main content
  • Meeting abstract
  • Open access
  • Published:

Probiotics for prevention of necrotizing enterocolitis: a systematic review of current evidences


The use of probiotics has been proposed to reduce the incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) in preterm neonates.


To systematically review the evidences regarding the use of probiotics in preterm neonates to prevent NEC.


We revised studies with high level of evidence (randomized clinical trials and meta-analysis). Database: MEDLINE and Pubmed. Search term: Probiotic (AND) Very Low Birth Weight (AND) necrotizing enterocolitis. Limits: Randomized clinical trial (AND) Meta-analysis.


We analyzed 20 manuscripts (13 Randomized clinical trial and 7 Meta-analysis) that were published from 2005 to 2014 and that analyze 3025 neonates. Analysis of the best evidences revealed that probiotics may have beneficial effects in the prevention of NEC, however current studies have failed to control for numerous confounding variables such as breast feeding rates, antibiotic exposure, feeding practices, and environmental cross-contamination. The incidence of NEC (stage > 2) was significantly lowered only in infants weighing 1001 to 1500 g. Thus, there is not enough evidence to support the efficacy of probiotics in extremely low birth-weight infants, and future well-designed studies are needed. Trials performed at institutions with high NEC rates have observed significant benefit from probiotics, while those institutions with low NEC rates have shown limited effects. Multistrain probiotics may be more effective than single-strain products. Currently, data from about 3000 neonates indicates that significant adverse effects of probiotics are rare.


Probiotics appear to be effective in preventing NEC only in specific setting. Although reports of probiotic-related sepsis are limited, caution should be used when considering probiotic supplementation in infants at greatest risk for an impaired mucosal barrier. Policies regarding storage, preparation, distribution, administration and documentation of probiotics to ensure patient safety should be adopted.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mario De Curtis.

Rights and permissions

This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

De Curtis, M., Dito, L., Conte, F. et al. Probiotics for prevention of necrotizing enterocolitis: a systematic review of current evidences. Ital J Pediatr 40 (Suppl 2), A32 (2014).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • DOI: