Study: Probiotics show benefit for preventing respiratory ailments, colds

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
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If you want to prevent a visit to the doctor's office this cold and flu season, consider adding probiotics to your diet. According to a study review, yogurt, soy yogurt, kefir or probiotic supplements can help prevent the common cold and other upper respiratory infections.

Cochrane review finds cold prevention benefits from probiotics

The reviewers found people who consume or take probiotics in supplement form had fewer respiratory infections including tonsillitis, laryngitis, sore throat and sinusitis than their counterparts who were given placebo.

The finding comes from an analysis of 14 randomized controlled trials that included 3,451 participants in Australia, Chile, Croatia, Finland, Japan, Spain, Sweden and the United States.

According to review co-author Qiukui Hao, in an e-mail to Health Behavior News Service, “Limited information from three of the 14 studies we included in our analysis also showed that probiotics can reduce the prescription of antibiotics.”

The reviewers say colds and respiratory infections account for a majority of doctor visits in the U.S. Taking probiotics could offer mild protection from colds and associated respiratory illness and help limit the number of antibiotic prescriptions written each year.

Any type of probiotic, including lactobacillus and bifidobacteria was found to offer some protection from colds and respiratory ailments in the study, at any dosage, when used for more than seven days.

The researchers say there were reports of gastrointestinal upset, vomiting, gas and lower abdominal pain, but when they compared side effects to the placebo group, the finding was insignificant.

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Mohamed Mubasher, Ph.D., a former associate professor of Biostatistics at the University of Texas, said, “What's exciting about this research is the fact that probiotics, a drug-free natural product, can potentially boost and enhance the human immune system and also regulate the production of beneficial bacteria within the human system.”

Studies of probiotic for protection from respiratory infection have been inconclusive. The authors say the study is important, given the potential for adverse effects that might occur from using probiotics.

Hao points out that Elie Metchnikoff, a Nobel Prize-winning researcher in immunology, conducted studies a century ago showing probiotics are beneficial for preventing respiratory and digestive ailments.

The current study included adults, average age of 40. Dr. Mubasher suspects older adults might benefit significantly from probiotics, given decreased immune function that occurs with aging.

The Cochrane study clarifies probiotics could help prevent colds and respiratory ailments that accompany flu, when taken for more than 7 days.

The study did not find any benefit from probiotics for shortening the duration of an upper respiratory ailment. Adding probiotics to the diet may be a good idea for people seeking natural ways to avoid colds and upper respiratory ailments this season.

The Cochrane Collaboration
"Probiotics for preventing acute upper respiratory tract infections"
Hao Q, Lu Z, Dong BR, Huang CQ, Wu T
September 7, 2011

Image credit: Wikimedia commons

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