How are taking probiotics and immune system function related?
The answers to that question are among the many reasons why Dr. Will Bulsiewicz’s Fiber Fueled is so high on the list of my favorite books for 2021!
First, “Dr. B “ insists that “the single greatest predictor of a healthy gut microbiome” is the consumption of a diverse plant-based diet.
But he also suggests that taking probiotics can magnify the already-powerful benefits of plant-based eating.
By feeding our 39 trillion gut bacteria the right ingredients, we create healthy microorganism biodiversity. And in Dr. B’s words, this gut microbiota operates as “a command center of sorts for human health.”
Significant research backs up his claims that the state of our gut flora directly impacts the state of our immune systems. Studies continue to focus on the connection between taking probiotics and immune system function. Let’s dive into three recent ones.
Probiotics and Immune System Function in Older People
In June of 2021, the MDPI’s Healthcare edition published the most recent of them. Maja Strauss of Slovenia’s University of Maribor headed a systematic review exploring probiotics’ indirect influence on the immune systems.
The research team’s specific focus was on how taking probiotics affected the susceptibility to common colds and other respiratory infections in older people.
After reviewing the eight studies meeting their criteria, the researchers concluded that probiotics consumption reduced the frequency and duration of acute upper respiratory tract infection in the elderly.
They also found the probiotics improved immune system function by:
- increasing natural killer cells
- enhancing antibody response
and creating “… physiological changes in… the intestinal microbiota, leading to more permissive communication along the gut–lung axis.”
Probiotics and the Immune System vs. URIs and COVID-19
In April of 2021, researchers from Iran’s University of Medical Sciences published another systematic review in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases. Led by Atieh Darbandi, they reviewed 27 clinical trials probiotics’ impact on respiratory tract infections and another ten ongoing studies researching their effects on Covid-19.
The balance of evidence from these 37 research efforts “with a special emphasis on Covid-19” led them to conclude that for people with upper respiratory or Covid infections, probiotics can significantly increase their:
- quality of life
- effectiveness of the influenza vaccine
- cytokines (molecules released during immune system responses to aid cell-to-cell communication)
while reducing their:
- viral load (how much virus is present in their bodies)
- frequency of respiratory infections
- duration of respiratory infections
The researchers summarized their study findings by concluding that the probiotics’ “antiviral” and “immune-modulating” effects made them a suitable “adjunctive therapy to prevent COVID-19.”
Finally, in June of 2020, before Covid-19 vaccines became available, Italian researchers published a paper in Therapeutic Advances in Respiratory Disease.
It presented their research into whether manipulating our gut microbes by consuming probiotics and dietary fiber might “… reduce inflammation and strengthen the immune system response in COVID-19 infection.”
They concluded that as part of a pre-vaccine, Covid-preventive regimen, “…the use of probiotics, prebiotics, and a high-fiber diet may help… maintain a healthy gut microbial diversity and strengthen the immune system.”
All these research efforts support Dr. B’s take on probiotics and immune system function. He stresses that every bite of food and probiotic capsule we put in our mouths has the power to alter our gut microbes.
And to a considerable extent, our gut microbes are influencing the well-being of our entire bodies! So, according to the most recent available evidence, the short answer to the question, “Are probiotics good for the immune system?” is…
A resounding “YES!”