Now that flu season is in full force and there have been multiple reports of healthy, young people dying from the flu, I’m reminded of a few probiotics that have impressed me for strengthening the immune system. A few years ago I wrote an article for Pharmacy Times on choosing probiotics that had yielded good results, according to the medical literature. I also was curious to see what the literature says now, 2 years later. Is there more supporting information? Less? Other probiotics? Here’s an update:
|Name of the probiotic (name brand in parenthesis when available)||Conclusions according to medical experts at Medline Plus1,2|
|Bifidobacterium bifidum||Reduces the number of college students who experience a cold or the flu|
|Lactobacillus brevis||Five days weekly for 8 weeks reduces the incidence of the flu in schoolchildren during flu season|
Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium (HOWARU Protect)
|Children ages 1 to 6 years who attend daycare centers seem to get fewer and less severe lung infections when given milk containing Lactobacillus GG or a specific combination product containing both Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium (HOWARU Protect).|
|Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum (Infloran, Berna)||Reduces the risk of colds in school-aged children|
|Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (Culturelle)||Taken twice daily this might reduce the incidence of pneumonia in people in the intensive care unit.|
|B. longum BB536||Consuming food containing B. longum BB536 for 3 weeks before getting a flu shot and 14 weeks thereafter seems to help prevent the flu in elderly patients|
|Lactobacillus plantarum and Lactobacillus paracasei||Taken daily for 12 weeks might reduce the risk of common cold by about 12% and reduce the number of days with symptoms from 8.6 to 6.2 in adults|
|Lactobacillus helveticus||Taken daily for 6 weeks does not seem to reduce the number of cold/flu days in otherwise healthy adult students. Also, drinking a beverage containing Lactobacillus brevis does not seem to reduce the risk of catching a cold|
|Bifidobacterium longum subsp.||Doesn’t seem to work for college students who experience a cold or the flu|
|bifidobacteria species Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. Lactis||Does not reduce the risk of airway infections in hospitalized children and teens.|
Apparently, the supporting information for using probiotics to strengthen the immune system is increasing. I was fascinated to see that B. longum BB536 was given as an adjunct to the flu vaccine. I think it was brilliant, considering that often times vaccines don’t work because the person’s immune system is too weak and debilitated to mount a response and make the necessary immunological ammunition.
In the cases of severely immune compromised patients, I don’t recommend probiotics for those patients. Keep in mind that probiotics are live bacteria that can cause sepsis in rare cases. It happens to premature babies, cancer patients and anyone in a very fragile, debilitated state.3
I think it’s very important to explain to patients that probiotics are very individual and specific in their actions. They are not interchangeable. They produce a specific effect and that is usually discovered in observational studies first, then confirmed in medical studies. When people ask me which probiotic I recommend for them, I look to see what kind of medical need they have, and then I make a recommendation for a probiotic to fill that need.
As a result of reading several studies, I realize that probiotics are very dose dependent. It’s always the highest doses that yield the best results. Therefore, I don’t recommend to patients that they skimp on doses. I don’t recommend they cut the pills in half or take half a dose to save money. I don’t recommend soon-to-expire probiotics that are on sale. I do recommend people buy probiotics that are recently manufactured and within expiration date. And never, under any circumstances, do I recommend freezing yogurt or probiotics. That could potentially kill them. I doubt anyone will ever get any probiotic benefits from frozen yogurt or frozen kefir. Technically, pill forms of probiotics are freeze dried in a laboratory and adding moisture will bring them back to life.
Probiotics can cost as much as $1.50 a pill. Considering that you can buy a 6-ounce container of yogurt for less money, I normally recommend yogurt for general health. I recommend the pills for specific actions, like strengthening the immune system during the peak cold and flu season.
I believe everyone deserves great health, and if cost is a barrier, I recommend people make their own yogurt from scratch, at home, for personal use. Follow me on Facebook, and I will share my homemade yogurt smoothie recipes that will nourish your body and soul. https://www.facebook.com/antiaging.drugs
- Medline Plus https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/790.html. Accessed January 30, 2018.
- Medline Plus https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/891.html. Accessed January 30, 2018.
- Boyle RJ, Robins-Browne RM, Tang MLK, 2006 American Society for Clinical Nutrition, Probiotic use in clinical practice: what are the risks?1,2,3. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/83/6/1256.abstract