How Probiotics Help Prevent Upper Respiratory Tract Infections
6 minute read
Upper respiratory tract infections can affect the sinuses, throat, and airways. Luckily, they tend to go away for most people after ample rest, fluids, and time. But for those people with preexisting health conditions that make respiratory tract infections more serious, medical help is often necessary.
Even if you are healthy, having a respiratory tract infection can be miserable. These infections often come with a host of symptoms including; cough, sneezing, nasal congestion, a sore throat, headaches, and more. While you’re recovering, you won’t be able to keep up with a normal, active lifestyle and will feel out of sorts.
It’s clear that avoiding an upper respiratory tract infection is optimal and most people take steps, such as washing their hands frequently, to prevent illness. However, new evidence suggests there might be more you can do to prevent an upper respiratory tract infection, like taking a probiotic.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are big news lately, as more evidence continues to prove how important having healthy gut bacteria is to your overall health. Probiotics are good bacteria that exist and live in your body; your digestive tract alone is full of communities of bacteria that help digestion.
Having the right balance of bacteria keeps your body working at optimum levels. Too much bad bacteria can lead to weight gain, skin conditions, constipation, diarrhea, chronic health conditions, and more.
Probiotics and Upper Respiratory Tract Infections
A systematic review of controlled trials looked more deeply into using probiotics for the prevention and treatment of respiratory tract infections in children. The results seemed to indicate that probiotic consumption significantly decreased the number of subjects having a respiratory infection episode.
Another review of randomized controlled trials looked at comparing probiotics with placebo to prevent acute upper respiratory tract infections in both children and adults. The review found that probiotics were better than placebo in reducing the number of participants who developed an infection, the duration of the infection, and the antibiotic use for participants.
While the data looks promising, the results aren’t completely in yet. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, the current evidence shows that probiotics may work for reducing the number of upper respiratory tract infections people have and their duration, but more studies are needed to verify these initial results.
How Probiotics May Prevent Upper Respiratory Tract Infections
The live microorganisms that make up probiotics, are thought to improve health by supporting local and systemic immunity. There are several different ways that probiotics may do this in the body.
♦ Phagocytic activity: A phagocyte is a cell in the body that “eats” foreign particles in the body. These particles can be dust, carbon, dyes, and bacteria. If there is a poison or toxic material inside these foreign particles, they cannot harm the phagocyte. It’s been found that certain strains of probiotics can stimulate phagocytic activity.
♦ Immunoglobulin stimulation: Immunoglobulins are antibodies that play a critical role in the immune response. These antibodies recognize and bind to bacteria or viruses and aid in their destruction. It is believed that probiotics stimulate the production of immunoglobulins in the human body.
♦ Enhanced gut barrier function: Your intestinal barrier has a very key role to play in the body, it allows the absorption of nutrients your body needs to thrive while blocking toxins, antigens, and enteric flora. It’s a very complex defensive system that protects the body from a wide variety of illnesses and possibly the development of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.
Probiotics add “good” bacteria to the gut to help balance the bacterial environment.
The Best Ways to Take Probiotics
While it’s often recommended that people consume additional probiotics to make sure they have a healthy bacterial balance, it’s important to note that you can consume them through foods or through a high-quality probiotics supplement.
If you’ve gotten approval from your doctor and are ready to start adding probiotics there are two ways you can do it: through a supplement or food.
| Related: Healthy Gut 101: Everything You Should Know About Probiotics |
Probiotic foods include yogurt, kefir, fermented vegetables, kombucha, and buttermilk. However, if probiotics are your goal, then dietary means alone could leave you lacking.
Probiotic supplements, on the other hand, are designed specifically to give you a healthy dose of probiotics with a delayed-release system that makes sure they reach your intestines intact.
The Bottom Line
It’s been proven that having a healthy balance of bacteria in the body helps the body’s immune system in several different ways. Unfortunately, we live in a society where maintaining the right balance of bacteria in the gut can be difficult. To boost your odds of having the right bacteria present, a probiotic supplement is a good solution.
In addition, there seems to be evidence that taking a probiotic gives the body an extra layer of defense when it comes to preventing upper respiratory tract infections and possibly helps in the treatment of these infections as well. There does need to be more research to come up with conclusive evidence and to provide the right strains for fighting respiratory infections, but the results so far are promising.