A new study suggests that probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria naturally found in the body and commonly added to cultured milk products, may help prevent cold and flu viruses in children.
There are many different types of probiotics that have various affects on the body. In general, probiotics have been found to help boost the immune system. They may also aid in several gastrointestinal illnesses, such as inflammatory bowel disease, antibiotic-related diarrhea, colitis, infectious diarrhea, hepatic encephalopathy, irritable bowel syndrome and allergies.
Probiotics are thought to work by competing with harmful organisms for nutrients. Some probiotics may also produce substances that inhibit their growth. As a result, probiotics are thought to restore balance to the microorganisms living in the digestive tract.
The latest study, published in the journal Pediatrics, included 326 children from China who were three to five years old. They were randomly assigned to receive milk with probiotics (either Lactobacillus acidophilus alone or in combination with Bifidobacterium animalis) or plain milk twice daily from November 2005 to May 2006.
The researchers report that children who received probiotics developed fewer colds, needed fewer antibiotics and missed fewer days of school than the children who drank plain milk.
Children in the Lactobacillus group developed 53 percent fewer fevers, 41 percent fewer cough episodes and 28 percent fewer runny noses than those in the placebo group. Among those who became sick, length of illness was 32 percent shorter in the Lactobacillus group than the placebo group. Additionally, the rate of antibiotic use was 68 percent lower and the number of days absent from school was 38 percent lower compared to the placebo group.
These beneficial effects were even more noticeable in those who received the combination of probiotics. These children developed 72 percent fewer fevers, 62 percent fewer cough episodes and 59 percent fewer runny noses. The average duration of illness was also shortened by 48 percent compared to the placebo group. These children were also 84 percent less likely to use antibiotics and 32 percent less likely to miss school than those in the placebo group.
Leyer GJ, Li S, Mubasher ME, Reifer C, Ouwehand AC., Probiotic effects on cold and influenza-like symptom incidence and duration in children.
Pediatrics August 2009.
The study was funded by Danisco, a Danish company that makes probiotics products.
This article appeared in the August 2007 issue of the Integrative Medicine Newsletter for Natural Standard