Studies show that good bacteria in the gut do more than just protect our digestive systems

Whilst writing my last post about zinc and the common cold I came across some interesting research and evidence about probiotics and how they may be useful in enhancing the function of our immune system.  Probiotics are supplements containing ‘beneficial’ or friendly bacteria which inhabit the intestines.  These friendly bacteria produce various substances in our bodies, such as acetic acid, lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide, which  may help to counteract detrimental bacterial and viral infections in all parts of the body (not just in our digestive systems). 

Two studies (1,2) have looked specifically at how taking probiotics daily can prevent us from catching colds and how they may affect the duration and severity of cold symptoms if we do succumb.  Results suggest that taking probiotic supplements for at least three months had a positive effect on the cells of the immune system, shortened common cold episodes by almost 2 days and reduced the severity of symptoms!

Evidence for the various health benefits of taking daily probiotic and/or prebiotic supplements is growing each year.  Probiotics work by supplying ‘beneficial/friendly’ bacteria to the digestive system and Prebiotics, often called FOS or fructooligosaccharides, work by promoting the continued growth of friendly bacteria present in the intestines.  FOS act as a food source that only the beneficial bacteria can use to grow.  Personally I have taken prebiotics for many years now.  One of my professors at university, Prof Glen Gibson, has published several scientific papers and studies concerning the benefits of prebiotics and probiotics to health and he spurred me into taking a daily supplement. 

Many products are available that combine Probiotics and Prebiotics together.  After a month of taking the combined supplement you may wish to switch and use a prebiotic/FOS supplement only.  This will help to maintain high levels of the beneficial bacteria in the digestive system.
(1) de Vrese M et al.  2005.  Effect of Lactobacillus gasseri PA 16/8, Bifidobacterium longum SP 07/3, B. bifidum MF 20/5 on common cold episodes:  a double blind, randomized, controlled trial.  Clinical Nutrition.  24(4):481-491
(2) Tubelius, P et al.  2005.  Increasing work-place healthiness with the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri:  a randomised, double-blind placebo-controlled study.  Environ Health.  4(1):25

Written by Ani Kowal