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The Effect of Probiotics on Viruses

By Deborah Lundin

The term “probiotics” has become popular in recent years, with yogurt companies advertising probiotics in their products and the benefits they provide. According to advertisements, these live micro-organisms benefit intestinal health. Use of probiotics is considered to be the use of complementary or alternative medicine and, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, approximately 38 percent of Americans are now using this type of medical care. Numerous research studies have looked at the benefits of probiotics and how they affect certain medical conditions and viruses, and some studies show benefits. Before you consider using probiotics, consult with your physician.

Probiotics

According to the World Health Organization, probiotics are defined as live micro-organisms, which, when administered in the adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host. The micro-organisms found in probiotics are known as “friendly bacteria” or “good bacteria” and are, for the most part, micro-organisms naturally found in the human body. Probiotics can be found in foods and taken as dietary supplements. Yogurt, fermented and unfermented milk, miso, tempeh and some juices and soy beverages contain probiotics. The most commonly used probiotics come from two groups known as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.

Viruses

Viruses, according to the American Society for Microbiology, are very small bundles of either DNA or RNA genetic material that are covered by a shell called the capsid. When they are floating in the air on surfaces, they are considered inert. However, once they come in contact with a host, such as a human, plant or other living cell, the virus comes alive. Viruses have the ability to infect and take over the actions of their host cell. Viruses are responsible for a variety of infectious diseases including the common cold, influenza, HIV/AIDS and chickenpox. They cannot be treated with antibiotics as bacterial infections are.

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Probiotics and H1N1

Medical research has looked at effectiveness of probiotics on a variety of viruses. A 2010 study published in “Letters in Applied Microbiology” looked at effectiveness of the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG on the H1N1 influenza virus in mice. The researchers administered the probiotic through intranasal exposure and discovered that Lactobacillus rhamnosus was effective in protecting the host by stimulating immune responses in the respiratory tract.

Probiotics and Rotavirus

Another 2010 study published in “BMC Infectious Diseases” looked at effectiveness of various probiotics on rotavirus diarrhea duration in infants. Their subjects received a placebo, the probiotic Saccharomyces boulardii, or a combination of probiotics including Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium longum and Saccharomyces boulardii. The results showed that both probiotic options reduced the duration of diarrhea; however, the Saccharomyces boulardii alone provided the most significant reduction in duration as well as a reduction in associated fever.

Considerations

While probiotics are considered safe for most people, there are considerations. Always check with your doctor first. Patients with weakened immune systems, such as HIV/AIDS patients or those with autoimmune diseases, are advised not to take probiotic supplements. The immune system is designed to control the overgrowth of bacteria; without a properly functioning immune system, it is possible for the probiotic bacteria to grow and cause health complications.

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