Probiotics become more popular once the cold and flu season starts. Is that attention warranted?
Increasingly, the evidence is affirmative.
Research suggests that good bacteria, whether through fermented foods or supplements, have a beneficial role in respiratory infections including colds and flu.
Probiotics boost respiratory health by:
- Reinforcing intestinal walls against pathogens
- Shoring up the immune system to fight infections
Some of the evidence
Respiratory tract infections were reduced and shorter in hospitalized patients given fermented milk with added strains of Lactobacillus rhamnosus in one study.
In other support, a review evaluated 20 randomized controlled trials to ascertain impact of probiotics on:
- Average duration of respiratory illness episodes
- Days of illness per person
- Days absent from work or school or day care
All of the above were reduced with probiotic treatment– specifically Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains– when compared with placebo.
And in another study, 57 preschoolers received probiotics—Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium plus 50 mg Vitamin C or a placebo daily for 6 months. For the probiotic as opposed to placebo, results revealed fewer upper respiratory tract infections and fewer absences from school.
Economic costs of colds and flu
Respiratory infections including colds and flu are not only costly to health; the economic toll is also high with increased healthcare costs and lost work days.
Could probiotics relieve some of that burden?
Two large meta-analyses assessed preventative effect of taking probiotics versus placebo.
- The York Health Economics Consortium review and meta-analysis results showed that probiotics significantly reduced the duration of respiratory tract infections (RTI).
- The Cochrane Collaboration also reported that probiotics reduced RTI incidence and antibiotic prescription rate.
And a new 2019 analysis has added to the economic data. As reported in Probiotics Reduce Health Care Cost and Societal Impact of Flu-Like Respiratory Tract Infections in the USA: An Economic Modeling Study, the model showed a “positive impact of probiotic consumption on health outcomes in flu-like RTI and the associated patient burden by reducing the number of RTI episodes, the number of days patients spent with RTI symptoms, and the need for antibiotics.”
Improved patient outcomes translated into considerable cost savings for both the payer and society.Lenoir-Wijnkoop, Irene et al. “Probiotics Reduce Health Care Cost and Societal Impact of Flu-Like Respiratory Tract Infections in the USA: An Economic Modeling Study.” Frontiers in pharmacology vol. 10 980. 28 Aug. 2019, doi:10.3389/fphar.2019.00980