Probiotics Reduce Cold and Flu Symptoms in Children
The results of an international study suggest that children who take probiotics - also known as beneficial bacteria - experience significantly less cold and flu symptoms than children who do not take probiotics. The children who took the probiotics also missed fewer days of school.
Probiotics, as defined by the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, are “live microorganisms [in most cases, bacteria], which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” Probiotics are similar to the friendly or beneficial bacteria found naturally in the human gut, or intestinal tract. Consumers can get probiotics in dietary supplements or in certain foods.
In the current double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 326 children were assigned to receive milk that contained probiotics (either Lactobacillus acidophilus alone or along with Bifidobacterium animalis) or plain milk twice daily for six months. The children who consumed the milk that contained Lactobacillus alone developed 53 percent fewer fevers, 41 percent fewer episodes of cough, and 28 percent fewer runny noses than the children who consumed plain milk.
The children who consumed milk containing both probiotics fared even better: they developed 72 percent fewer fevers, 62 percent fewer episodes of cough, and 59 percent fewer runny noses. These children were also 32 percent less likely to miss days of school than the children who drank plain milk. All the children who took the probiotics were up to 84 percent less likely to need antibiotics as well.
Probiotic supplements are available in capsules, tablets, and powders. Foods that contain probiotics include yogurt, kefir, fermented milk, miso, tempeh, and some juices and soy beverages. Some food manufacturers are now experimenting by adding probiotics to other products, such as nutritional bars.
The study’s investigators conclude that daily use of probiotic supplements is an effective way to significantly reduce symptoms of cold and flu in children as well as the number of school days they can miss because of illness. Other previous research indicates that probiotics are also effective in reducing cold and flu symptoms in adults.
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO). Guidelines for the Evaluation of Probiotics in Food.
Leyer GJ et al. Pediatrics 2009; 124: e172-e179.
Pregliasco F et al. J Clin Gastroenterol 2008 Sep; 42 Suppl 3 Pt 2:S224-33.