Probiotics Reduce Respiratory Illness

probiotics and respiratory infection

Image Pete Wardell/CDC

Respiratory conditions are not just about infections and pollution. They also relate to the microbes that are occupying our mucosal membranes.

Researchers from Finland’s Medcare Foundation, University of Helsinki School of Medicine and Valio Ltd. have found that children who regularly consumed probiotics for six months had significantly fewer respiratory illnesses. Earlier research has determined similar findings among elderly people.

In a randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled study, the researchers gave 523 children between two and six years old either milk with Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG or milk without the probiotic for 28 weeks. The milks were given to the children three times a day during meals.

The children were attending one of sixty child daycare centers in Finland, where respiratory illness is quite common due to the close proximity of the children while playing indoors. The study protocol was supervised and approved by the Ethics Committee of Finland’s Joint Authority of the Kainuu Region.

oral probiotics

The study excluded any children who were allergic to milk, were lactose intolerant, had heart disease or were on any medications. The researchers also analyzed fecal samples of a majority of the children to confirm active probiotic organisms from the supplementation.

Fermented milk

The study found that the Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG probiotic milk significantly reduced the incidence of respiratory conditions among the children when compared to the placebo group. Among the children who completed the regimen, the probiotic group had an average of 4.71 days of respiratory illness per month, while the placebo group had an average of 5.67 days of respiratory illness per month.

Illness symptoms monitored included wheezing, sinus congestion, sore throat, coughing, increases in mucous and earaches. Diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, flatulence and GI pain were also monitored and compared. The Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG strain used for the study was ATCC #53103.

Oral probiotics

While many find difficulty with the concept that probiotics consumed orally will help prevent and lessen lung conditions, our probiotics coordinate with the immune system’s cells even from the GI tract. This also combines with the fact that some probiotics – including Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG – will colonize to some degree within the oral cavity and throat as they are consumed with food. This combination of colonization among the upper airways and GI tract leads to a joint effort between probiotics and immune cells – which stimulates the immune system.

Other probiotics have also been shown to have similar effects against respiratory infections. And children aren’t the only ones who benefit from probiotics with regard to lung conditions.

For example, scientists from Greece’s University of Thessaloniki Medical School (Kotzampassi et al. 2006) gave a placebo or probiotic combination to 65 elderly critically ill, mechanically ventilated, multiple trauma patients for 15 days.

Probiotic formula

The combination consisted of Pediococcus pentosaceus 5-33:3, Leuconostoc mesenteroides 32-77:1, L. paracasei subsp. paracasei 19; and L. plantarum 2,362; with inulin, oat bran, pectin and resistant starch as prebiotics. The probiotic patients had significantly lower levels of infection, sepsis and death than did the placebo group. Number of days in the ICU and number of days under ventilation were significantly reduced compared to the placebo group.

In their findings, the researchers concluded that:

“The administration of this synbiotic formula in critically ill, mechanically ventilated, multiple trauma patients seems to exert beneficial effects in respect to infection and sepsis rates and to improve the patient’s response, thus reducing the duration of ventilatory support and intensive care treatment.”

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Kumpu M, Kekkonen RA, Kautiainen H, Järvenpää S, Kristo A, Huovinen P, Pitkäranta A, Korpela R, Hatakka K. Milk containing probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and respiratory illness in children: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2012 Sep;66(9):1020-3. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2012.62.

Adams C. Probiotics – Protection Against Infection: Using Nature’s Tiny Warriors To Stem Infection and Fight Disease. Logical Books, 2011.

Case Adams is a California Naturopath with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies. “My journey into writing about alternative medicine began about 9:30 one evening after I finished with a patient at the clinic I practiced at over a decade ago. I had just spent the last two hours explaining how diet, sleep and other lifestyle choices create health problems and how changes in these, along with certain herbal medicines and other natural strategies can radically yet safely turn ones health around. As I drove home that night, I realized I needed to get this knowledge out to more people. So I began writing about health with a mission to reach those who desperately need this information. The strategies in my books and articles are backed by scientific evidence along with wisdom handed down through traditional medicines for thousands of years.” Case connects with the elements by surfing, hiking and being a beach bum.

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