Probiotics reduce duration of respiratory illness

Encouraging patients to increase their probiotic consumption during cold and flu season may be a relatively easy, cost-effective way to lessen the impact of the common cold

According to a systematic review from the British Journal of Nutrition, probiotics — specifically Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains — reduced the duration of respiratory infections in adults and children.

Although previous research had reported a modest effect of probiotics on the common cold, this is the first review to evaluate their effect on the duration of the illness in otherwise healthy people.

For this study, researchers conducted a comprehensive literature search through 20 July 2012, in eight databases: MEDLINE, Embase, the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, the Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects, Health Technology Assessment, Science Citation Index and OAISTER.

The team also obtained unpublished studies and databases from probiotic manufacturers. Two reviewers selected the studies, extracted data from them and assessed their quality. Twenty randomised controlled studies were included, with twelve determined to have a low risk for bias.

The ensuing meta-analysis revealed significantly fewer numbers of days of illness per person, shorter illness episodes by almost a day and fewer numbers of days absent from daycare, school and work in participants who received a probiotic intervention than in those who had taken a placebo.

Given that probiotics are widely available in capsules, tablets, beverages, powders and yoghurts, encouraging patients to increase their probiotic consumption during cold and flu season may be a relatively easy, cost-effective way to lessen the impact of the common cold.

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