Probiotics may ward off respiratory infections, especially in overweight and elderly people

A daily probiotic pill could protect millions of vulnerable people from breathing infections, according to a new study. The supplements – usually taken for good digestion – could help elderly and overweight people fend off certain respiratory diseases, say scientists.

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria found in some foods or supplements, which are known to provide a wide range of health benefits. Scientists at Imperial College London explain that’s because they maintain healthy bacteria in the gut, also known as the microbiome.

Taking probiotic supplements has been found to reduce upper respiratory infections in healthy people, such as the common cold, tonsillitis and sinus infections. Now, research suggests probiotics could do the same for elderly and obese people, who are especially vulnerable.

“This is not necessarily the most intuitive idea, that putting bacteria into your gut might reduce your risk of respiratory infection,” says study co-author Dr. Benjamin Mullish, a lead researcher on the study and clinical lecturer in Imperial’s Department of Metabolism, Digestion and Reproduction, in a statement. “But it’s further evidence that the gut microbiome has a complex relationship with our various organ systems. It doesn’t just affect how our gut works or how our liver works, it affects aspects of how our whole body works.”

Detailed daily diaries from 220 patients who had participated in an earlier study on probiotics and weight loss were analyzed by the researchers. Study authors scoured entries for common respiratory symptoms like coughs, wheezing and having a sore throat.

The team found that participants who took probiotics during the six months study had a 27 percent lower chance of developing respiratory problems. The benefits of taking probiotics were especially high for participants over the age 45 and those who were obese.

“These findings add to growing interest in the gut-lung axis – how the gut and the lungs communicate with each other,” says Mullish. “It’s not just the gut sending out signals that affect how the lungs work. It works in both directions. It adds to the story that changes in the gut microbiome can affect large aspects of our health.”

More research is needed to understand why probiotics are so effective at reducing the risk of respiratory disease.

Article by South West News Service writer Tom Campbell

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