Search Contact
Q&A: COVID-19 AND PROBIOTICS
29 April 2020 - 2 min read

At this day, COVID-19 is present in almost all countries worldwide.

Governments are responding to contain outbreaks and, in some areas, pace of contagion is slowing down1.

With this crisis, we receive a daily flood of information about the virus, its transmission, effects and symptoms. In some cases, it can even be overwhelming and worrying.

With this information overload, myths and fake news have also spread, some of them regarding preventive treatments and measures to protect us from getting ill.

 

Regarding probiotics, here’s some science-based Q&A that you might find useful:

Can probiotics cure or prevent COVID-19?

COVID-19 was first detected in humans last December 2019. It is still a very new and unknown infectious disease, and as such, there is no treatment available to cure it2.

The drugs being used currently in intensive care units address the most common symptoms of the disease (fever, cough etc.) which in some cases are similar to other respiratory illnesses like the flu3.

Regarding preventive treatments, at the moment there is no clinical evidence either. Therefore, no confident statements can be made on the ability of any treatment, including probiotics, to treat or prevent a coronavirus infection.

However, a recent review suggests that some orally administered probiotic strains, including Lactobacillus plantarum DR7,  could be of use in the prevention of COVID-19, together with other established treatments. The same article insists on the importance of only choosing those probiotics that have especifically proven their clinical efficacy at reducing the incidence and severity of general viral respiratory-tract infections10.

Can probiotics be used to support general immunity?

Yes, but only a few. Each probiotic strain has it’s particular set of properties and benefits, and only some of them have been studied in depth for immune applications.

For example, Lactobacillus plantarum DR7 is a probiotic strain with clinically proven benefits for immunity in a placebo-controlled, randomized trial. This probiotic was studied in humans for the prevention and treatment of upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) often caused by acute viral infections, such as the common cold or the flu4. This specific strain supports immunity modulating the serotonin/kynurenine pathway, which is linked to immunity but also to mood balance.

Therefore, some probiotics can help as extra-support for the immune system, together with:

  • A balanced and healthy diet5
  • Regular exercise6
  • Getting enough sleep7
  • Stress reduction8
How can I know if a specific probiotic will help me?

If you do decide to start taking probiotics for any indication including immune support, it is very important that you choose well. The World Health Organization (WHO) states9 that a probiotic will be beneficial for your health if (and only if) fulfilling all of the following:

  • Each bacteria species and strain collection codes are specified in the pack. If code strains are not properly annotated in the pack, you might be ingesting different bacteria each time you take the probiotic, that might not possess any beneficial properties.
  • It has been clinically proven, with at least one controlled, randomized clinical trial in humans. Ideally, the same probiotic composition found in stores should be the one used on the clinical trial.
  • The way the probiotic operates (mechanism of action) has been studied and experimentally characterized.
  • It does not have any antibiotic resistances.

 

Normally, you will find this information (or the lack of it) at the site where you are purchasing the product, either the pharmacy or online.  You can also ask for this information to your doctor

Taking a clinically proven probiotic for immunity, along with other healthy habits, will most likely help build a strong immune response
Bibliography
1. Coronavirus disease 2019 [Internet]. [cited 2020 Apr 27]. Available from: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019.
2. Li G, Fan Y, Lai Y, Han T, Li Z, Zhou P, et al. Coronavirus infections and immune responses. Vol. 92, Journal of Medical Virology. John Wiley and Sons Inc.; 2020. p. 424–32.
3. Hamid S, Mir MY, Rohela GK. Novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19): a pandemic (epidemiology, pathogenesis and potential therapeutics). Vol. 35, New Microbes and New Infections. Elsevier Ltd; 2020.
4. Chong H-X, Yusoff NAA, Hor Y-Y, et al. Lactobacillus plantarum DR7 improved upper respiratory tract infections via enhancing immune and inflammatory parameters: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Dairy Sci. 2019;102(6):4783–97.
5. Maynard CL. The Microbiota in Immunity and Inflammation. Clinical Immunology. 2019; p.207-219.
6. Simpson RJ, Kunz H, Agha N, Graff R. Exercise and the Regulation of Immune Functions. In: Progress in Molecular Biology and Translational Science. Elsevier B.V.; 2015. p. 355–80.
7. Besedovsky L, Lange T, Haack M. The sleep-immune crosstalk in health and disease. Physiol Rev. 2019 Jul 1;99(3):1325–80.
8. Dhabhar FS. Effects of stress on immune function: The good, the bad, and the beautiful. Vol. 58, Immunologic Research. Humana Press Inc.; 2014. p. 193–210.
9. FAO-WHO, Guideline for the Evaluation of Probiotics in Food 2002.
10. Baud D, Dimopoulou Agri V, Gibson GR, Reid G, Giannoni E. Using Probiotics to Flatten the Curve of Coronavirus Disease COVID-2019 Pandemic. Front Public Heal. 2020 May 8;8.
Read more articles