Probiotics for Protection Against Viruses?
Updated: Apr 9
Currently, the two main questions that I am asked is, (1) "What can I do to help prevent getting a viral infection?" and (2) "If I get an infection, what can I do to fight it?" First of all, I probably don't have to tell you that the pharmaceutical world has little to offer when it comes to viral infections. If you get an upper respiratory infection like the flu, there is a product or two that can shorten the illness by a few days, and there are a couple of things that can help relieve some of the symptoms. But when it comes to preventing the contraction of a virus or stopping the progression of the illness that the virus causes, we are still largely relying on our Divinely-designed immune system. Therefore we must ask the question: Is there something that enhances our existing viral defense? Thankfully, there are number of ways to do just that--but with so many voices out there in cyberspace, who do you believe? The best rule to follow is this: "In God we trust, and everyone else needs DATA"! If they don't have scientific evidence to support their claims, do not entrust yourselves to their advice. It doesn't always have to be randomized placebo-controlled trials of thousands of patients; but the question is this: Is there ANY credible peer-reviewed laboratory or clinical data to support their claims? The other aspect to consider is if the "expert" actually sees people who are ill or have health problems, or are they just writing about it on the internet? Clinical experience is absolutely necessary to be a health authority, because when it comes to health and disease, there is still an art to taking good care of people.
Of course the elephant in the room currently is COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, 2019-nCoV (or SARS-coV-2). For data on treatment of the most severe cases of this disease, we look to the Chinese medical force that treated so many people who required ICU care. In February, a group published their experience and we find that, as part of their protocol for the "sickest" of patients was ongoing administration of Lactobacillus/Bifidobacterium probiotics (1). Granted, that wasn't the only treatment by any means, but it was an integral part of the overall care, and it appears that the aggressive utilization of probiotics in the COVID-19 ICU is a necessary part of the management of these super-sick patients.
That leads us to see if there are any studies that might suggest that probiotics and/or the maintenance of a balanced microbiome might have antiviral effects. Can probiotics decrease viral infections or decrease severity of viral illnesses? Indeed, there are data here as well showing that probiotics CAN make a significant impact on viral diseases (2, 3). Now we have to be careful to remind everyone that these studies were not for COVID-19 specifically--they were for viral mediated upper respiratory infections in general, such as colds and flu (4). Nevertheless, if the proposed treatment is overall exceedingly safe, then why wait for the studies on COVID-19 to be published months or years from now (5)? I advocate a preemptive fortification of your existing immune system using HIGH QUALITY probiotics--emphasis on high quality because there's so much garbage out there posing as good products. Let the buyer beware! See my probiotics guide on the homepage of this website (www.legacyhealthmd.com) for more information about choosing the best product. As far as clinical experience goes, high-quality probiotics are an important part in the treatment of my patients' health problems, and it may mainly be related to the impact that these have on the immune system (6).
So give your immune system a boost. Get some good probiotics and let's get back to business as usual!