Do Probiotics Help Restore a Healthy Balance in Our Microbiome?
What we really want to know is this:
- Do probiotics help reduce symptoms of any diseases?
- Do probiotics help reduce respiratory symptoms of allergies, rhinitis, sinusitis, asthma, or viral URI syndrome?
- Do probiotics help reduce symptoms of diarrhea or other GI imbalances?
- Do they help reduce any other diseases – infectious or otherwise?
The short answer is: in some cases, yes; in some cases, no.
You will hear grandiose claims by those who are trying to SELL you probiotics.
Read-on to get the facts.
What Does Science Say About Probiotics?
What is the Medical Evidence?
Probiotics for Sinusitis, Rhinitis, and Asthma
In general, there have been no randomized clinical trials (the “gold standard” for medical evidence) that clearly show a benefit for probiotics in treating or preventing sinusitis. On the other hand, many preliminary studies suggest that there may be some benefit, and all studies that have been carried out to date conclude that better studies need to be done. This review was published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, in 2002.
Similarly, a recent review of randomized clinical trials that looked at using probiotics to reduce allergic rhinitis or asthma concluded that we need more, better-quality studies before a definite decision can be reached. This review was published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, in 2008.
So – are there areas where probiotics have some PROVEN benefit?
For gastro-intestinal imbalances, the answer has generally been “yes”.
Probiotics and Gastrointestinal Microbiome Health
Probiotics supplements have been shown to be beneficial for treating antibiotic-associated diarrhea, necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), H. pylori overgrowth, and preliminary evidence suggests that probiotics may perhaps benefit inflammatory bowel disease.
This might make sense – taking a handful of beneficial bacteria by mouth will enter the gastro-intestinal tract. If those beneficial or benign bacteria can survive the stomach acid, they may restore a more beneficial balance in our GI microbiome.
As noted above, there are several well-studied examples where this is indeed the case.
The surprising benefit of probiotics has been demonstrated – not in the GI tract, we expected that – but in the respiratory tract.
Probiotics and Respiratory Health
In a study of children aged 3-5 years, daily consumption of probiotics were found to significantly reduce the incidence and duration of respiratory tract infection symptoms. These results were published in the journal, Pediatrics in 2008.
A study on the affect of probiotics on more than 300 children concluded that probiotic supplements was a safe and effective way to reduce fever, rhinorrhea (runny nose), and cough – both incidence and duration – as well as reduce the need for antibiotics and the number of missed school days due to illness; this study was published in the journal, Pediatrics in 2009.
Got that? randomized clinical trials discovered that probiotics reduced the frequency, reduced the severity, reduced the need for antibiotics, and reduced the length of symptoms from respiratory illness in children.
What more can you ask from a remedy?
We can only speculate on just HOW probiotics might benefit respiratory infection symptoms, but some studies suggest that our microbiome helps us maintain a healthy immune system:
Probiotics and Human Immune Response
Preliminary results suggest that probiotics can strongly affect our immune system response. For example, results of a study of 7 different probiotic strains suggested that probiotics may act to boost our immune response following oral vaccines.
How our microbiome affects our health, how our diet affects our microbiome, and how probiotics, pre-biotics, and syn-biotics, may affect our microbiome, all provide intriguing potential to optimize our health and wellness.
Stay tuned for updates as I find them.
One caution: A few studies have shown that patients with extremely compromised immune systems have actually been made sick when given probiotics. If a person has an immune system problem, he or she should consult a doctor before taking probiotics.
Let me put in a plug here for Dr. Greene’s site. He is a pediatrician at Stanford / Packard Children’s Hospital, and his site is a GREAT resource.
Dr. Greene reviews some studies of probiotics, and recommends which ones to get for your little boogorheads:
In the meantime, please leave a message and tell us:
Have you used probiotics?
If so, what was your goal – what were you treating, if anything?
How did it go?
Which probiotics did you take?
We will all benefit by everyone sharing their experiences.
Image Credit: MRSA, by Janice Haney Carr, CDC, Published in the Public Health Image Library
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