Studies in both adults and children have indicated that probiotics may reduce the frequency, duration and symptoms of flu and respiratory tract infections.
There has been growing evidence that probiotics, the beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract, play an important role in immunity. Strains such as acidophilus and bifidobacterium aid in developing natural defenses against foreign intestinal bacteria and viral infections, and enhance the immune system. But recent studies looked more specifically at the effect probiotics may have on the flu and respiratory infections.
Note: These studies did NOT involve the H1N1 flu virus, as they were conducted before this year's outbreak.
In the first study, More than 475 healthy men and women who had not received flu vaccines were randomly assigned to receive a placebo or a daily probiotic bacteria supplement combined with a vitamin and mineral supplement over the course of more than 5 winter/spring months.
Immune response tests showed a 'significantly higher' response in the supplement group, especially during the first 14 days of supplementation. Researchers also found that respiratory tract infections were reduced by more than 13% in the supplement group, compared to the placebo group.
Among those in the supplement group who did develop respiratory infections:
• Symptoms were generally reduced by 19%
• Influenza symptoms were reduced by 25%
• The number of days with a fever was reduced by more than 50%.
A recently published pediatric study also had very promising results. The 18 month study examined the effect of probiotics Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium on children aged 3 to 5. The results showed that:
• The Lactobacillus acidophilus group had 53% fewer fevers, 41% fewer coughs, and 28% fewer runny noses than the placebo group
• The group given both bacteria strains had 72% fewer fevers, 62% fewer coughs, and 59% fewer runny noses than the placebo group
• When they did get sick, the Lactobacillus acidophilus group recovered from cold symptoms 32% faster and the two-bacteria group recovered 48% faster than the placebo group, with less antibiotic use (68% and 84% less, respectively)
• Absences from childcare were reduced by 28% in those children on the combined supplement.
"Daily probiotic dietary supplementation during the winter months was a safe effective way to reduce episodes of fever, rhinorrhea, and cough, the cumulative duration of those symptoms, the incidence of antibiotic prescriptions, and the number of missed school days attributable to illness," wrote the authors.
When considering ways to boost immunity and fight against flu, consider the benefits of disease fighting foods and supplements containing prebiotics (indigestible starches and certain types of fiber), combined with foods and supplements containing probiotic Lactobacilli or Bifidobacteria strains.
The probiotic strains lactobacillus acidophilus and bifiobacteria bifidum are an important part of both the Digestion Support and Immunity Support products. Each formula also includes various prebiotic ingredients. Please note that the Pathway to Healing Products are not formulated or recommended for children.
For more information on probiotics and prebiotics, read Spotlight on: Probiotics and Prebiotics. See Protecting Yourself Against H1N1 Flu for Dr. Cherry's advice on keeping your immune system strong against the flu.