How Probiotics Help Regulate Our Immune System

benefits of probiotics

Though they are delivered to the gut, probiotic bacteria can exert an influence across the body. nobeastsofierce/Shutterstock

You’ve probably heard of probiotics – the “good bacteria” that can benefit our health. We consume them in an expanding variety of ways, often in foods marketed as being healthy. These bacteria can be contained in supplement capsules, yogurts, drinks or even snack bars.

They work by helping prevent other, disease-causing bacteria from infecting our gut. They may also interact with our gut’s immune cells, helping regulate the cells’ activity in the complex gut environment, which is important for preventing unwanted inflammation that can trigger inflammatory bowel disease. Research has also shown that the effects of probiotics may go beyond the gut, regulating immune responses in the lungs as well.

Right now, our immune systems face the constant threat of having to fight off the coronavirus, with it circulating at record levels around the world since the emergence of the highly infectious omicron variant. There are limited treatments available for people that get seriously ill, and current vaccines aren’t highly effective at preventing infection in people that haven’t recently taken a booster.

But if probiotics positively affect our immune system, and their effects are not limited to the gut, could they offer a cheap and accessible way of helping our bodies fight off COVID?

Bacteria lead to quicker recovery

A recent trial conducted in Mexico showed that people with the coronavirus who took a specific combination of four probiotic bacterial strains recovered quicker compared to those who took a placebo. Those given probiotics also had increased antibody responses to the virus that peaked earlier than the placebo group’s.

Importantly, those taking the probiotics had lesser symptoms and lower amounts of the virus in their bodies 15 days after their initial infection compared to people taking the placebo.

These encouraging results are some of the first to show that probiotics could help our immune system fight off COVID. The authors suggest that probiotic supplementation could help people recover quicker. This could reduce the self-isolation periods currently imposed on infected people in numerous countries throughout the world.

That said, we need to be careful interpreting these results. Despite being a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial (generally regarded as the gold standard for testing medical treatments), it had some limitations. It excluded those over the age of 60 and didn’t account for vaccination status of the trial participants. This means we don’t yet know if probiotics provide any benefit to those who are most at risk of developing severe COVID.

In addition, taking probiotics may be inappropriate for those with a weakened immune system. This is due to a potential increased risk of infection resulting from consuming large quantities of live bacteria.

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

An axis of immunity

Research has uncovered a potential positive effect – but can we explain why this happens? How is it that bacteria that arrive in our gut end up helping the immune response against COVID up in the lungs?

Immunologists think they have an answer. They’ve proposed the idea of a gut-lung immune axis. The theory is that immune cells exposed to probiotics in the gut could be activated by these bacteria and then travel to the lung upon infection. In COVID, these would be B cells – the white blood cells that produce antibodies. They could be “primed” in the gut to go on to produce more antibodies when they encounter the virus in the lung or nose.

However, before probiotics can be properly considered for treating COVID, more studies are needed to validate these results. Clinical trials using probiotics to treat disease often produce varying results, as the effects of probiotic bacteria on immune cells may be highly specific to the bacteria used. Trials must also be performed in different groups of people to see what effect the bacteria have, as we know that COVID is more severe in some than others. Ethnicity has been associated with COVID mortality, for example.

Certainly, there’s no direct evidence currently that the probiotic bacterial strains contained in a store-bought probiotic yogurt would have the same effect as the probiotics tested in the Mexican study. It’s also important to remember that not all the probiotic bacteria contained in foods may be live by the time they are consumed, which could affect their potency.

What to eat now

While the evidence on probiotics is being gathered, in the meantime another way to look after your gut bacteria is to eat a healthy fibre-rich diet. The latest research shows that those who consume a healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables are less likely to develop severe COVID. A high-fibre diet that stimulates the gut bacteria may even help your immune system to generate a stronger response to COVID vaccination.

As COVID will likely remain highly prevalent in the world for the foreseeable future, probiotics have the potential to become a useful tool in our fight against the disease. However, before we all run out to our local health food store to stock up, we need to wait for research to confirm what types of probiotic bacteria could help our immune system and who would most benefit from consuming them.The Conversation

About The Author

Paul Gill, Postdoctoral Fellow in Microbial Diseases, UCL and Andrew Smith, Chair in Oral Health Sciences, Eastman Dental Institute, Faculty of Medical Sciences, UCL

Recommended Books: Health

Fresh Fruit CleanseFresh Fruit Cleanse: Detox, Lose Weight and Restore Your Health with Nature's Most Delicious Foods [Paperback] by Leanne Hall.
Lose weight and feel vibrantly healthy while clearing your body of toxins. Fresh Fruit Cleanse offers everything you need for an easy and powerful detox, including day-by-day programs, mouth-watering recipes, and advice for transitioning off the cleanse.
Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon.

Thrive FoodsThrive Foods: 200 Plant-Based Recipes for Peak Health [Paperback] by Brendan Brazier.
Building upon the stress-reducing, health-boosting nutritional philosophy introduced in his acclaimed vegan nutrition guide Thrive, professional Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier now turns his attention to your dinner plate (breakfast bowl and lunch tray too).
Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon.

Death by Medicine by Gary NullDeath by Medicine by Gary Null, Martin Feldman, Debora Rasio and Carolyn Dean
The medical environment has become a labyrinth of interlocking corporate, hospital, and governmental boards of directors, infiltrated by the drug companies. The most toxic substances are often approved first, while milder and more natural alternatives are ignored for financial reasons. It's death by medicine.
Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

You May Also Like

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration




digital money 9 15
How Digital Money Has Changed How We Live
by Daromir Rudnyckyj
In simple terms, digital money can be defined as a form of currency that uses computer networks to…
An Equinox Altar
Making An Equinox Altar and Other Fall Equinox Projects
by Ellen Evert Hopman
Fall Equinox is the time when the seas become rough as the winter gales set in. It is also the…
curous kids 9 17
5 Ways To Keep Kids Curious
by Perry Zurn
Kids are naturally curious. But various forces in the environment can dampen their curiosity over…
renewable power 9 15
Why It’s Not Anti-Environmental To Be In Favour Of Economic Growth
by Eoin McLaughlin etal
In the midst of today’s cost of living crisis, many people who are critical of the idea of economic…
koala bear "stuck" in a tree
When It’s Smart To Be Slow: Lessons from a Koala Bear
by Danielle Clode
The koala was clinging to an old tree stag while stranded in the Murray River, on the border…
quiet quitting 9 16
Why You Should Talk To Your Boss Before 'Quiet Quitting'
by Cary Cooper
Quiet quitting is a catchy name, popularised on social media, for something we’ve all probably…
Like Genes, Your Gut Microbes Pass From One Generation To The Next
Like Genes, Your Gut Microbes Pass from One Generation to the Next
by Taichi A. Suzuki and Ruth Ley
When the first humans moved out of Africa, they carried their gut microbes with them. Turns out,…
ocean forests 9 18
Ocean Forests Are Larger Than The Amazon and More Productive Than We Thought
by Albert Pessarrodona Silvestre, et al
Off the coastline of southern Africa lies the Great African Seaforest, and Australia boasts the…

New Attitudes - New Possibilities | | | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.