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It’s that time of year again, when we all seem to be coming down with something: coughs, colds, flu, sneezes, tonsillitis or worse… And we all know how disruptive and uncomfortable it can be. So how can we make sure we defend ourselves against those nasty viruses and bugs?
Supporting our immune system seems more important than ever during winter. And there’s lots we can do, like reducing stress, or ensuring we get enough vitamin D. But did you know that research shows that the most important supplement you can take to support immunity is actually a probiotic? And it makes sense when we consider that our immune system starts in the gut, and that the good bugs in it are absolutely critical to protecting us against the bad ones.
How does this work? Probiotic bacteria like Lactobacillus species have been found to stimulate our immune system’s natural function. They appear to act as a ‘low level challenge’, keeping the immune system on a state of alert, and ensuring it responds quickly and effectively to other invaders. So when researchers gave young children a combination of LAB4 probiotics with a little vitamin C every day, they found that the children got fewer coughs and colds, reduced by around a third. Even if they did get an infection, the symptoms were only half as bad and they didn’t need as much medication, like antibiotics. They also needed half the time off school.1 Other research shows that the specific bacteria strain, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, is effective in reducing the number, severity and duration of respiratory tract infections in children.2,3 So some probiotics, including the LAB4 combination and L. rhamnosus GG, may be the best thing to take all winter to prevent coughs and colds.
Also, if we are prescribed antibiotics to help with an infection, we need to remember that they also work directly on our good gut bacteria too, causing an imbalance, and perhaps having a negative effect on immunity in the long run. Again, using probiotics can help to re-establish and accelerate growth of microflora lost through antibiotic therapy.4 Taking probiotics when you’re on antibiotics is an excellent way to support your healthy bugs and prevent you becoming resistant to the antibiotics too, ensuring they will work if you need them again.
So when we’re worrying about the onslaught of harmful bacteria, we need to bear in mind that some bacteria are beneficial and useful. Some bugs really are good bugs, and if we look after them, they’ll look after us too.
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1 Garaiova I et al. Probiotics and vitamin C for the prevention of respiratory tract infections in children attending preschool: a randomised controlled pilot study. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015; 69 (3): 373-9.
2 Hojsak I et al. Lactobacillus GG in the prevention of gastrointestinal and respiratory tract infections in children who attend day care centres: A randomised, double-blind, placebo controlled trial. Clinical Nutrition. 2010; 29 (3): 312-6.
3 Kumpu M et al. The use of the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and viral findings in the nasopharynx of children attending day care. J Med Virol. 2013; 85:1632-8.
4 Madden et al. Effect of probiotics on preventing disruption of the intestinal microflora following antibiotic therapy: a double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study.Int Immunopharmacol.2005;5(6):1091-7.