If you’re looking to protect your health this cold and flu season, you may want to add probiotics to your diet. While probiotics get a lot of attention for their benefits to digestive health, research shows the benefits extend much further! Studies show probiotics boost your immune response, improving your overall health and well-being.
Research Shows Probiotics Boost Immune Response
Good digestive health means good overall health, right? After all, if you get the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other health-promoting nutrients from your food, you’ll have the fuel your body needs to fight infection. Recently researchers decided to look deeper to see if probiotics had a more direct relationship to immune response.
In 2011, Swedish researchers published a study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition that reported big benefits for those who took probiotics. The double-blind placebo-controlled study divided 272 healthy people into two groups. One got the probiotic while the other got a placebo (the control group).
Then, researchers tracked them for 12 weeks to see if those taking the probiotics provided protection against the common cold. Those taking the probiotics who caught a cold[i]:
- Had it for 2 ½ days less than those in the control group.
- Experienced fewer symptoms.
- Didn’t get sore throats as often.
Plus, the rate of getting a cold in the probiotic group was much lower. Their research suggested probiotics not only helped deal with a cold, it helped prevent it!
Then in 2014, researchers in New Zealand examined if probiotics boosted the immune response. They looked at how probiotics helped elite rugby players, individuals whose immune system was already stressed by their high endurance activity. They found[ii]:
- 14 of the 30 taking the probiotic never developed a respiratory infection.
- Those taking the probiotic were sick for 2 days less.
- A general benefit to taking probiotics to prevent illness.
Some researchers looked directly at how probiotic bacteria interact with immune cells. They’ve found certain probiotics, especially B. lactis DR10, L. rhamnosus GG, Saccharomyces cerevisiae boulardii and several others trigger production of a variety of immune cells.[iii]
This final study shows probiotics appear to have a direct impact on your immune response. It’s not the only one though.
Another Way Probiotics Protect You
A healthy and well-balanced probiotic flora in your gut naturally discourages infection. Your digestive tract is the home of these probiotics and like any home-owner, they want to keep it comfortable and safe. They do this by releasing enzymes and by-products that kill germs.
For example, one probiotic metabolic end-product is lactic acid. This keeps the pH of your gut nice and low (acidic). While it’s good for the probiotics, it kills infectious viruses and bacteria before they can take hold and make you sick.
Are Some Probiotic Bacteria Better at Fighting Colds and Flus
- bifidum – helped protect college students against colds and flus
- L. brevis – reduced flus in school children who took probiotics five days a week
- L. acidophilus – school children who took probiotics had fewer colds
- B. longum – protected the elderly against the flu
- plantarum & L. paracasei – adults given these probiotic strains had two fewer days with cold symptoms and an overall 12% lower risk of catching a cold!
The good news about these probiotic strains is that they are common to most probiotic foods and supplements.
Best Probiotics to Support Your Immune System
You can pretty much get probiotics in two ways: through your diet and with a supplement.
Popular probiotic foods include:
If you like these, adding them to your diet is an enjoyable way to boost your immune system. The only drawback is you never really know how much of a probiotic, or which one, you’re getting. Plus, some sauerkrauts, for example, are pasteurized, a process which kills the probiotic bacteria.
Quality probiotic supplements like Flora Infused tell you exactly which probiotic strains you’re getting. You also know how much. Flora Infused, for example, guarantees 50 Billion CFUs at the end of its shelf-life, meaning you get at least that much every day.
Which is best for you? Frankly, with the way probiotics boost your immune system, it’s best to get probiotics whichever way you prefer – especially during cold and flu season!
[i] Berggren A1, et al. Randomised, double-blind and placebo-controlled study using new probiotic lactobacilli for strengthening the body immune defence against viral infections. Eur J Nutr. 2011 Apr;50(3):203-10. doi: 10.1007/s00394-010-0127-6. Epub 2010 Aug 28.
[ii] Haywood BA1, et al. Probiotic supplementation reduces the duration and incidence of infections but not severity in elite rugby union players. J Sci Med Sport. 2014 Jul;17(4):356-60. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2013.08.004. Epub 2013 Aug 30.
[iii] Ashraf R1, et al. Immune system stimulation by probiotic microorganisms. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2014;54(7):938-56. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2011.619671.