Probiotics improve immunity in the elderly during the winter

Finding ways to strengthen immune responses in the elderly is an important goal of modern healthcare

Viral respiratory and gastrointestinal infections are a significant problem in the elderly, reports TAP Integrative.

As we age, our immune systems decline, which makes it harder to ward off infection. Therefore, simple viral infections can lead to additional illnesses and even death.

Finding ways to strengthen immune responses in the elderly is an important goal of modern healthcare. Nutritional supplements, including probiotics, may help support the aging immune system both directly and by balancing the gut microbiota.

A 2015 randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the journal Immunity & Ageing sought to determine the effects of the probiotic Bacillus subtilis CU1 on the immune systems of elderly participants. B. subtilis CU1 is known to have immune-stimulating properties and to combat gastrointestinal infections.

The study included 100 subjects, ages 60-74. Subjects were assigned either to the probiotic group and consumed 2.109 B. subtilis CU1 spores daily or to the placebo group. The probiotics or placebo were given for courses of 10 days, followed by an 18-day break, and this was repeated 4 times.

Researchers analysed symptoms of gastrointestinal and upper/lower respiratory tract infections. In addition, in a subset of 44 subjects, blood, saliva and stool samples were collected to monitor for systemic immune responses.

Overall, the probiotic group did not have any significant reduction in the frequency, duration or severity of chronic infectious disease symptoms compared with the placebo group. However, in a subset of subjects monitored for systemic immune responses, significant increases in immune activity (increases in sIgA and IFN-gamma) did occur in the probiotic group.

A post-hoc analysis on this subset revealed that those who had taken probiotics experienced fewer respiratory infections compared to the placebo group (p=0.0323).

The results of this study suggest that taking a daily dose of B. subtilis CU1 supplementation in winter may safely and effectively boost the immune system in the elderly. Larger clinical trials are necessary to confirm these findings.

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