Connections between probiotics and immune system

Connections between probiotics and immune system

Over the past few months, a newly discovered virus, COVID-19, has been spreading among human populations in countries all around the world. Although there is no shortage of news about the illness thanks to the 24/7 media cycle, experts are still working to try to understand the exact disease process. One of the most complicated factors is how very differently the virus can affect people.

The same virus that amounts to nothing more than a passing sore throat for one person can cause another to develop a serious respiratory infection, such as pneumonia. And, though scientists are working at a furious pace to come up with a treatment and a vaccine to help protect us from these outcomes, we currently have no choice but to rely on our own immune systems to fight this illness. 

Man exercises by curling dumbbell

You can play a role in helping your body fight off COVID-19 and other diseases by making lifestyle and diet choices that support good health. “Following general good-health guidelines is the single best step you can take toward naturally keeping your immune system strong and healthy.” 1

Good habits like getting regular exercise, eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables, lowering stress, and avoiding toxins are all ways to support a healthy immune system. Another habit that may help support a healthy immune system is incorporating probiotics into your diet.

What effects do probiotics have on the immune system?

The human gut contains millions of different microbes that all work in concert to help the body digest foods, fight harmful bacteria and regulate the immune system. A disruption in the balance between good and harmful bacteria in the gut can create digestive issues and lower the body’s ability to fight off disease. 

Diagram showing digestive system

By introducing a large number of healthy bacteria into the body, probiotics help restore the correct balance and strengthen the immune system. “They’ve been shown to secrete protective substances, which may turn on the immune system and prevent pathogens from taking hold and creating major disease.” 2

Can probiotics help ward off viruses like COVID-19?

As more research is conducted into probiotics, we are gaining a better understanding of the additional role they play in helping the immune system ward off disease. “Thus, probiotics showed therapeutic potential for diseases, including several immune response-related diseases, such as allergy, eczema, viral infection and potentiating vaccine response.” 3

In response to the pandemic at hand, researchers at Colorado State University are conducting studies into how the probiotic, Lactobacillus acidophilus, might be utilized as a cure for COVID-19. The team of scientists have discovered that a genetically engineered form of the bacterium may block the virus at several points of entry into the human body, thwarting its ability to infect people. “These points amount to an Achilles’ heel — a viral vulnerability that could be exploited to avoid the deadly respiratory disease COVID-19.”4

As our world becomes even more interconnected, we must accept that this is likely not the last pandemic we’ll experience. One way to protect yourself from falling prey to this type of illness is to institute lifestyle and dietary habits that help support a strong immune system. 


References

How to boost your immune system, Health.harvard.edu. 
Should you take probiotics?, Health.harvard.edu. 
Probiotics and immune health, NCBI.nlm.nih.gov. 
CSU researchers pursue a vaccine to target an Achilles’ heel of the coronavirus, Colostate.edu. 

NOTE: The Harvard Health Publishing, PubMed Central®, and Colorado State University, have not reviewed or approved the above article.