Problem: Necrotizing Enerocolitis (NEC) is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in neonatal intensive care units (NICU), affecting 7% to 14% of premature neonates weighing less than 1500g (Lin et al., 2008). Healthcare costs for the treatment of NEC account for roughly 20% of the 5 billion dollars spent on infants in the NICU annually (Gephart, McGrath, Effken & Halpern, 2012). Nutritional supplements, such as probiotics, may be used prophylactically to prevent NEC in this high-risk population.

Objective: A literature review was performed to examine which strains of probiotics show the most potential in reducing the incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis.

Method: A literature review was performed using CINAHL, Science Citation Index, Science Direct, Medline, Academic One file, PsychINFO, and PUBMED databases. Key words included enterocolitis, Necrotizing*/PC OR NEC* AND probiotics*. After applying exclusion criteria, 9 articles remained for this review.

Results: A variety of probiotic strains used to reduce the incidence of NEC were identified, along with inconsistent times of initiation, number of colony forming units and length of treatment. The most commonly studied probiotic strains include Lactobacillus species, Bifidobacterium species, and Saccharomyces species. After detailed analysis, it appears that a combination of Bifidobacterium species and Lactobacillus species reduce the incidence of NEC from an 8% (Fernández-Carrocera et. al, 2013) reduction up to 100% reduction in the incidence of NEC (Braga, Pontes da Silva, Cabral de Lira, & Lima, 2011). These two species, when combined, were more successful when compared to Saccharomyces species or Lactobacillus species alone.

Conclusion: Although there is positive support for the proactive use of probiotics for the reduction of the incidence of NEC in premature neonates, the inconsistencies between studies are a barrier for determination of a specific treatment recommendation. Although the combination of Bifidobacterium species and Lactobacillus species has been shown to have an impact on the reduction of NEC incidence, the research inconsistencies provide a barrier to generalizations for treatment. Additional research that focus on Bifidobactrium species in combination with Lactobacillus species is needed. Furthermore, the use of probiotics as a preventative treatment for NEC has not been thoroughly researched in extremely premature infant populations (gestation). Therefore, although the results are promising, further research is needed before this can be determined as a safe preventative method. The current questions remaining include: when prophylactic treatment should be initiated, how long prophylactic treatment should last, the number of colony forming units to be administered, and what is the long-term impact of probiotic administration on the normal gut flora, if any.

Thesis Completion




Thesis Chair/Advisor

Covelli, Maureen


Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.)


College of Nursing




Orlando (Main) Campus



Access Status

Open Access

Release Date

May 2016