Probiotics: Do They Work?

Image: MRSA, by Dr. Carr, CDC

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.

You can download my review on Probiotics for Children, including where you can get them, here:

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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  1. dr faust, what about prebiotics as are found in raw milk or kefired milk? if a child (or adult) is drinking raw milk or kefir daily will they get the same protection and benefits from upper respiratory complications as individuals taking probiotics?

    • Russell A. Faust, PhD, MD says:

      Hi Jenna,
      Let me start by saying – I don’t know the answer.

      On the other hand, I am guilty of speculation: probiotics are preparations of known, beneficial (or at least benign) bacteria.

      The potential bacteria present in raw milk are not necessarily benign. There are examples of detrimental bacteria (pathogens) appearing in raw milk sources – those are the target of the pasteurization process. I don’t have a strong opinion regarding the raw milk debate, although I admit to giving our own children pasteurized organic milk.

      And thanks again for contributing to our community of “boogor heads”!! I really appreciate your participation. Thanks for visiting and for taking the time to leave a comment.

      By the way, LOVE your blog site:! I didn’t realize until recently that you are THAT Jenna. I have followed you on Twitter since I opened my account.

      RF (boogs)

  2. Hi Dr. Russ – we use probiotics. I have tried many brands over the years but we are currently using Dr. Ohhira’s brand. When I was pregnant I got some heart palpitations – just occassionally – the doctors could find nothing wrong with me or my heart. They never completely went away. When my son was 3 we both got some horrible cough and the doctor put me on two antibiotics at once. After the second day or so, the heart palpitations came back in an extreme way. I took some probiotics and got immediate relief – they stopped within 30 minutes. Since then I have been sold on probiotics.

    My son has the cough variant asthma and has had antibiotics a few times, so I try to always keep him on probiotics and I for sure think they help, although I think the nasopure helps more for acute issue, I think the probiotics keep him healthier overall.

    • Russell A. Faust, PhD, MD says:

      Hey Lisa!

      I have ALL of my patients (kids) with asthma on probiotics. Also, all of my patients with any of the kid “itises” – otitis, rhinitis, sinusitis, bronchitis, …, you get the idea. Randomized clinical trials have not clearly demonstrated a benefit of probiotics for all of those disorders, but probiotics HAVE conclusively been demonstrated to decrease the frequency, severity, and duration of URI syndromes (upper respiratory infections like the common cold).

      Because nearly all of those kid “itises” arise following URI’s, it simply stands to reason that probiotics will decrease most of these itises also. Yes – probiotics keep kids (adults, too) healthier overall.

      I have not heard that cardiac connection before, and I cannot think of a physiological explanation, but that means nothing. If it works for you, excellent!

      Please let Dr. Hana Solomon know about your positive experience with Nasopure, she will appreciate that. I agree, it’s a great product (and she’s a great doc!).

      My only other comment is that we have been taking probiotic “pearls” (from Integrative Therapeutics). If their claims are to be believed, their preparations keep more of the probiotic preparations alive through stomach acid. Makes sense – their “pearls” are enteric-coated. Check out their website – seems to be a great source for information on probiotics.

      As always, appreciate your contribution to our community of “boogor heads”. Thanks for visiting, and for taking the time to leave a comment.
      RF (boogs)

  3. I have had very strong success with my two boys using probiotics. My 9 year old has had asthma since he was two and my 7 year old has had rhinitis since he was 4. I started them both on 1 capsule per day of probiotics, for about 1 -2 months now. I am amazing to say the least!! My 7 year old has been of his nose spray or weeks, and my 9 year old no longer needs his daily puffer!!! I want to spread the word!!!

    • Russell A. Faust, PhD, MD says:

      Hi Anna,
      We have had a similar experience with our three kids, and my own improvement (decrease in ‘colds’ and sinusitis) has been remarkable. I am now a probiotic evangelist! Also consider adding Xylitol to your regimen. Clinical trial results have been similar to probiotics. That combination – probiotics, and Xylitol – keeps many of my patients healthy enough to avoid surgery. Wonderful!
      Thanks so much for visiting and sharing. Please tell us which probiotic preparation you are having success with.

  4. I have tried probiotics, from a British brand, and was very impressed with the results – less inconsistencies with my bowel movements, more regular feeling, and all round happier going to the bathroom! A friend recommended them after we were both impressed with their review policy:
    I wonder if probiotics will be classified as medicines one day.

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