Can Probiotics Really Prevent Illnesses?
Your immune system is designed to provide a barrier between you and foreign invaders, like viruses. Specialized infection-fighters are located in various organs, tissues, cells, and proteins throughout the body.
Some of the immune system is tasked with identifying foreign agents, while other parts produce antibodies, which shield you against repeat infection from the same substance.
When it’s working properly, the immune system is marvelously efficient at getting the job done. But that doesn’t mean it’s always perfect. Sometimes, that sniffle can turn into a cold, then bronchitis. And sometimes, despite your best prevention efforts, you wake up with a fever and feeling like you got hit by a truck.
This is why nurturing your immune system while you’re healthy and illness-free is so important.
You already know basic illness prevention: washing hands, not touching your face, eating a nutritious diet, exercising, drinking lots of water, etc. Along with those habits, there are several supplements you can add to your daily routine to enhance your immune function. But if you had to pick only one, it should be probiotics.
The “Good Guys”
Bacteria have long had a reputation as “bad guys” that do nothing but cause illness and disease. Can you blame the vast majority for feeling this way, though? After all, some of the most miserable, even life-threatening, infections are bacterial. Pneumonia, strep throat, food poisoning, meningitis, gonorrhea, syphilis, sepsis, and tetanus are just a few.
But in reality, disease-causing bacteria represent only a small proportion of the actual bacteria in the body. The majority of bacteria are actually protective and health promoting. Their robust presence is what keeps harmful bacteria at bay, what converts food into nutrients, and what helps you stay healthy most of the time.
It’s only when bad bacteria start to outnumber the friendly bacteria, and eventually overwhelm the immune system, that infections crop up.
In fact, probiotics are your first line of defense against illness- and disease-causing microbes. It is estimated that up to 80% of your immune strength comes courtesy of the beneficial bacteria in and around your gut. They also line the skin and airways, poised to attack foreign invaders.
Research Into Probiotics and Immunity
Probiotic supplements are the best way to help to support these living, thriving microorganisms—and, in turn, boost your immune system function. A lot of research on probiotic supplements shows just how effective they can be against a variety of illnesses.
One study examined the effects of a probiotic drink against upper respiratory infections. Participants received a beverage that included various probiotic strains, including Lactobacillus fermentium and Lactobacillus casei.
A total of 136 participants were split in half and given either the probiotics or a placebo, every day for 12 weeks.
The results showed that the consumption of the probiotic beverage “significantly reduced the incidence of upper respiratory infection and flu-like symptoms…”
In fact, the probiotics reduced the prevalence of the common cold by 50% and flu by 60%, compared to placebos. Additionally, the probiotic group had greater numbers of interferon-gamma in their blood. This substance is critical for both innate (first-line) immunity and adaptive (second-line) immunity against pathogens.
The researchers concluded that, “Probiotics were safe and effective for fighting the common cold and influenza-like respiratory infections by boosting the immune system.”1
Another study looked at school-aged children and what effect probiotics had on the common cold. Eighty students were divided evenly into two groups, and received either a two-strain probiotic or placebo twice a day for three months.
Thirty-one (77%) children in the probiotic group developed at least one cold symptom, compared to 38 (95%) in the placebo group. Those taking the probiotics also had “significantly lower risk of fever, cough, rhinorrhea, school absence and school absence related to common cold.”2
Researchers are even looking into probiotics’ role in preventing and reducing the severity of COVID-19.
In June 2021, Rutgers University launched a study looking at how probiotics can boost the body’s natural defenses against COVID-19 in unvaccinated individuals.
Other studies have examined this potential as well.
Choosing the Best Probiotic Supplement
Currently, there are plenty of probiotic supplement options on the market, and choosing a good supplement can be tricky. Several criteria make some probiotics far superior than the rest.
First, look for products that encapsulate the bacteria so that they can reach the digestive tract without being destroyed along the way by the acidic environment.
You should also look for products that contain a blend of different types of organisms, with at least 10 billion colony forming units (CFUs) per dose.
It should also contain a variety of strains, including those from the Lactobacillus family (which includes acidophilus, rhamnosus, casei, and many others). These lactic acid-producing microbes normally live in the digestive, urinary, and genital systems. It should also contain bacteria from the Bifidobacterium family (which includes bifidum and longum).
Finally, it’s important to include prebiotics. Prebiotics are fiber-like compounds that feed probiotics and help them thrive. You can get prebiotics by eating onions, leeks, garlic, and asparagus. Or you can look for a probiotic supplement that includes prebiotics.
If you are looking for a probiotic that meets all these important criteria, look no further than Newport Natural Health’s Microencapsulated Probiotic with FOS.
Remember, probiotics can’t cure infections. But they do help your immune system put up a stronger fight against whatever comes its way. If you give your immune system what it needs to function properly, it will work hard for you every day to protect you as best as it can.
- Zhang H, et al. Prospective study of probiotic supplementation results in immune stimulation and improvement of upper respiratory infection rate. Synth Syst Biotechnol. 2018 Jun;3(2):113-20.
- Rerksuppaphol S and Rerksuppaphol L. Randomized controlled trial of probiotics to reduce common cold in schoolchildren. Pediatr Int. 2012 Oct;54(5):682-7.