The Cold, The Flu, and The Gut

There is growing evidence that a healthy gut microbiome may be your best immune defence.

What is a “gut microbiome”? The gut microbiome is the collection of microorganisms, including bacteria, archaea, viruses, and fungi found within the gut and their overall genetic information. It plays a vital role in maintaining health and preventing developing disease.

Within the last decade, research regarding the human gut microbiome has exploded. While the gastrointestinal tract was once regarded simply as a digestive organ, new technologies have led the science world to wonder about the impact of gut microbiota on human health and disease. The gut microbiome is now becoming known for its role in metabolism, immune defence, and behaviour. 

Cold and flu season (on top of COVID) might be dreadful, so we're covering our bases for prevention and treatment by gearing up our guts!

The World Health Organization defines probiotics as “live microorganisms that confer a health benefit on the host when administered in adequate amounts.”

Most of us know that probiotics and gut health can help improve digestion, but what does that have to do with immunity? Well, a lot. Researchers, including those at Johns Hopkins University, have found substantial interaction between the immune system and the bacteria that populate our gut microbiome. This makes sense since a considerable proportion of the immune system is in the gastrointestinal tract—our gut. Yup. In our gut,

It’s not new information. While the studies are current, people and animals alike have, for centuries, experienced the medicinal benefits of probiotics and how they help improve gut health through fermented foods like yogurt and kimchi. Even now, the medical field is exploring what probiotics can do for autoimmune diseases, cancer, and our neurological health. But, probiotics may also play a role in improving quality of life by helping us alleviate symptoms and recover faster from the dreaded cold and flu.

We’ve probably all experienced cold and flu symptoms at one point, but what exactly is happening to create those symptoms? The runny nose, headaches, sore throat, cough, weakness, discomfort, fever, chills, and ensuing infections are all thanks to a viral infection in the upper respiratory tract.

Because the cause of all this cold and flu misery is a virus, antibiotics aren’t the cure we’re looking for; these essential medications are designed to fight bacterial infections—not viral infections.

But that’s not to say that bacteria—in the form of healthy gut bacteria—have nothing to do with fighting an upper respiratory tract infection. Friendly bacteria from probiotics don’t interact directly with the virus itself; instead, they promote a healthy gut and, subsequently, a healthy immune system.

The Pros of Probiotics

Researchers have described the role of friendly bacteria in our gut microbiome as defenders that spend their lives “excreting massive quantities of antibodies into the gut” in their quest to control the way our bodies react to outside microbial invaders. This is where probiotics come into play.

Researchers worldwide have focused on probiotics and their relationship with immune health.

A study of Croatian children attending daycare centres administered half of the children with probiotics and the other half with a placebo. After three months, the researchers found that those taking probiotics had a significantly lower risk of respiratory tract infections than those taking the placebo. And those taking probiotics who did develop infections had a reduced number of days of symptoms.

Swedish researchers conducted a study on 272 adults. They found that compared to the group taking placebos, the group using probiotics experienced the milder cold and flu symptoms and decreased the infection’s duration. Cases of the cold and flu among participants taking probiotics averaged 6.2 days compared to the 8.2-day duration of their placebo-taking peers.

Let’s go with our gut this cold and flu season and gear up with probiotics for a better quality of life. Fewer sick days mean more quality time, and who wouldn’t take milder symptoms!

To learn more about probiotics or purchasing quality probiotics, contact one of our pharmacists.