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Parents: Probiotics Help Fight the Common Cold

Parents: Probiotics Help Fight the Common Cold: Main Image
A new study found that young children taking a supplement containing healthy bacteria (probiotics) and fibers that support their growth (prebiotics) got sick less often
There may not be a cure for the common cold, but fortunately there are steps you can take to prevent it, such as hand-washing and getting enough sleep and exercise. And now it appears we can add taking a probiotic supplement to this list. A new study, published in Therapeutic Advances in Respiratory Disease, found that young children taking a supplement containing strains of healthy bacteria (probiotics) and fibers that support their growth (prebiotics) got sick less often than children who were not taking the supplement.

Pro- and prebiotics can keep kids well

The 135 children, ages 3 to 7 years old, had all been sick at least three times the previous winter with either respiratory or gastrointestinal infections. They were given a combination probiotic-prebiotic supplement or placebo once daily for three months in the winter. The supplement contained 3 billion colony-forming units of a combination of

  • Lactobacillus helveticus (previously classified as an acidophilus species),
  • Bifidobacterium infantis,
  • Bifidobacterium bifidus, and
  • 750 mg of fructooligosaccharides, a type of indigestible dietary carbohydrate that enhances the growth of these bacterial colonies.
  • The children who took the supplement were sick less often than the children who didn't.
  • About 69% of children in the placebo group and 52% of children in the supplement group had at least one documented illness during the trial.
  • 43% of children receiving placebo missed at least one day of school due to sickness compared to 26% in children receiving the supplement.
  • The treated children had fewer respiratory (those involving ears, nose, throat, or lungs) and gastrointestinal illnesses, the most common types of childhood illness.

None of the children taking the supplement experienced negative side effects.

Reaching beyond the gut

"This study suggests that a three-month supplementation with this [probiotic and prebiotic] preparation can decrease the risk of occurrence of common infectious diseases in children and limits the risk of school day loss," the study's authors said.

The findings support the notion that promoting the growth of healthy gut bacteria has beneficial effects beyond the gastrointestinal tract. "It is likely that probiotics are effective because they exert their effects on numerous cell types involved in the innate and adaptive immune responses," the researchers speculated.

Staying healthy in the winter

Taking care of yourself in the winter can help you avoid colds and flus:

  • Practice a stress-reduction technique. Stress weakens our defenses.
  • Get regular exercise. Develop a winter exercise routine that you enjoy--enjoyable exercise helps keep the immune system strong.
  • Get plenty of rest. Adequate sleep is necessary for the body to repair, heal, and fight infection.
  • Nourish your body with whole foods. Stay away from sugar, which can stop immune cells in their tracks.
  • Use water as preventive medicine. A quick cold rinse after every hot shower is a good way to stimulate immune cell activity. In addition, gargling with plain water a few times per day has been shown to prevent colds.
  • Take some vitamin D. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to increased susceptibility to colds and other infections. An extra 1,000 to 2,000 IU per day in winter is safe and reasonable.
  • Consider a probiotic supplement. Whatever your age, research suggests that the preventive use of probiotics can reduce the duration and severity of common colds.

(Ther Adv Respir Dis 2010;4:271-8)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice on Cortes Island in British Columbia, Canada, and has done extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
 
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