With winter in full swing and the increased risk of catching a cold or the flu, it makes sense to take extra precautions and strengthen your immune system to keep you in tip-top condition.
Recently, we told our readers of the Real Diabetes Truth about research that has shown how a daily probiotic supplement given to new born babies in the first 27 days of their lives strengthened their immune systems to such an extent that it actually helped prevent the development of type 1 diabetes.
The truth is, in the past few years probiotics have proven to be essential as a first line of defence against disease. This is important, especially given the fact that antibiotics are fast losing the battle in the fight against infections and deadly new superbugs – which have become resistant to even the most powerful antibiotics in some cases. This is a cause for major concern in hospitals.
One of the reasons why probiotics are such a powerful tool against infections and disease is because 60-70 per cent of your immune system is located in your gut. This defence network consists of lymph tissue referred to as GALT (gut-associated lymphatic tissue). The probiotics in your gut are constantly interacting with the GALT and essentially priming your immune system for contact with other potentially harmful bacteria.
When healthy populations of probiotics are present in the large intestine, harmful bacteria are crowded out, preventing them from causing major infections.
Supplementing with probiotics activates several components of your immune system, including infection fighting antibodies – proteins that identify and neutralise harmful antigens.
Research, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, has revealed that daily supplementation with the beneficial bacterial strains Bifidobacterium animalis ssp. lactis (BB-12) or Lactobacillus paracasei ssp. paracasei (L. Casei 431) can boost immune function by an incredible 50 per cent.
Results were based on a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study involving 211 subjects and the use of an immune challenge. The researchers randomly assigned the study participants to receive daily supplements of BB-12 or L.casei 431 (a minimum of one billion colony-forming units) or a placebo for six weeks.
After two weeks of supplementation with the probiotics, the participants received a seasonal flu vaccine. Four weeks later, the researchers recorded substantial increases in flu antibodies in the probiotic groups, compared with the placebo group. The researchers also noted similar results for total antibody concentrations.
This backs up previous research findings on the immune-boosting benefits of probiotics. Canadian researchers from the Department of Pathobiology, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, revealed that probiotics increase the amount of ‘friendly bacteria’ in the gut and this stimulates your body to produce natural antibodies.
The researchers found that these antibodies are particularly active against infections such as tetanus following surgery.
A US study from the University of California at Davis found that people who ate two cups of live probiotic-containing yoghurt daily suffered fewer colds.
Probiotics may even play an important role in the fight against superbugs. A randomised controlled study found that a yoghurt containing three probiotics cut down the amount of diarrhoea patients suffered as a result of being put on antibiotics to treat the bug C. difficile, which they had picked up in hospital. Once someone has the infection, spores from their diarrhoea can quickly spread and infect other patients.
So, there you have it, boosting your immune system this flu season and avoiding infections may be as simple as taking a probiotic supplement.
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