Can Probiotics Help Prevent the Common Cold?December 2nd, 2013
by Andrea Bashore, PharmD student
There are many types of illnesses caused by respiratory tract infections. One that we are all familiar with is the common cold. About 22 million school days are lost in America due to this sickness, and it is the leading cause of doctor’s visits and missed days of work.1 It is common for adults to contract three to four colds each year, while the elderly and young have a higher risk of catching four to six colds annually.1 An article on Natural Standard has proposed that probiotics, or “good” bacteria, can help reduce the risk for upper respiratory tract infections.2 Common ways to prevent a cold may be washing one’s hands frequently, getting plenty of rest, or dressing appropriately for cold weather. In addition to these things, it has now been found that probiotics can be an added measure against catching a cold. Most of us have probably seen probiotics advertised on yogurt such as Activia. There have been several health benefit claims about these good bacteria, and one of the most common uses is for gastric and intestinal illnesses.3 Other benefits are alleviation of lactose intolerance and food allergies, blood pressure control, and control of inflammation in arthritis.3 Along with these benefits, research has found a new use for probiotics.
The article “Probiotics May Reduce the Risk of Respiratory Tract Infections” discusses a study with new findings. Researchers recruited 465 people to participate in the study.3 They separated the participants into three different groups with the first receiving a probiotic, the second receiving a different probiotic, and the third receiving a placebo.3 The group who took probiotic BI-04 showed a significantly lower risk for an upper respiratory illness compared to the placebo group.3 Because of this comparison the researches concluded that it was an effective supplement for preventing colds.
Along with this research, there has been more evidence that supports this idea of cold prevention with probiotics. Bacteria in the nasal cavity cause upper respiratory infections, and a study in Switzerland took this into account when testing probiotics.4 They concluded that probiotics decrease the amount of this potentially illness causing bacteria.4 Another study focused on children in day care centers. They tested the same probiotics as the Switzerland study, and their results showed that use of the probiotics substantially reduced the number of respiratory tract infections in the study’s population.1
Though the conclusions from each of these articles support the claim of probiotics preventing respiratory tract infections, they cannot make the claim that probiotics directly cause this prevention. This is what the evidence shows, but we cannot say that this is a cause and effect since the articles do not give a full explanation of how this kind of good bacteria is working to prevent infection. The probiotics do not make any direct contact with the nasal cavity, though the results showed prevention of bacteria in this area.1 Even with this limitation, I would agree that probiotics are helpful and would suggest this to others. A meta-analysis done on probiotic therapy for diarrhea reported that out of four different studies no serious adverse effects were reported.5 While I believe that more studies need to be done on the safety and adverse effects of probiotics, they have not been reported to be harmful. If simply eating yogurt everyday or taking a probiotic supplement can help someone’s health through the cold season, I would gladly suggest this. I don’t think it is necessary for every person to do this, but it is something that I would recommend. There are many other ways to help prevent colds, and this is simply and additional preventative measure. Encouraging patients to take probiotics to prevent colds also opens the door to inform them of other health benefits that they may not have known.
The common cold puts a damper on our everyday lives, and using probiotics to prevent respiratory tract infections is a step towards a healthier population. This is such a simple way that we can help our communities fight the cold season.3 As pharmacists, we can easily encourage our patients to take probiotics to help prevent a cold. Can we confidently tell patients that this will be effective? How as pharmacist can we properly inform patients on probiotics and the benefits they provide? Through research and educating ourselves on this topic we can hope to better the health of our community.
- Snovak N, Abdović S, Szajewska H, Mišak Z, Kolaček S. Lactobacillus GG in the prevention of gastrointestinal and respiratory tract infections in children who attend day care centers: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Clinical Nutrition. 2010; 29: 312-316. Available at: http://www.clinicalnutritionjournal.com/article/S0261-5614(09)00203-9/fulltext. Accessed November 2, 2013.
- Probiotics May Reduce the Risk of Respiratory Tract Infections. Natural Standard. 2013. Available at: http://www.naturalstandard.com/news/news201310010.asp. Accessed November 2, 2013.
- Parvez S, Malik KA, Kang A, Kim Y. Probiotics and their fermented food products are beneficial for health. Journal of Applied Microbiology. 2006; 100: 1171-1185. Available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2672.2006.02963.x/full. Accessed November 2, 2013.
- Glück U, Gebbers J. Ingested probiotics reduce nasal colonization with pathogenic bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and hemolytic streptococci). The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2003;77: 517-520. Available at: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/77/2/517.short. Accessed November 2, 2013.
- Nandini D, Costa V, MacGregor M, Brophy J. Probiotic therapy for the prevention and treatment of Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea: a systematic review. Canadian Medical Assiciation Journa. 2005; 173: 167-179. Available at: http://www.cmaj.ca/content/173/2/167.full. Accessed November 25, 2013.