- Probiotics and COVID-19: Can Good Bacteria Help Fight the Virus?
- The Role of Probiotics in Fighting COVID-19
- What are Probiotics?
- How Can Probiotics Keep You Healthy?
- The Gut-Lung Axis: How Gut Health Affects Lung Immunity
- Limitations of Current Research on Probiotics and COVID-19
- Should You Start Taking Probiotics to Combat COVID-19?
- The Lowdown
Probiotics and COVID-19: Can Good Bacteria Help Fight the Virus?
On 11 March 2020, coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.¹ The disease is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The Role of Probiotics in Fighting COVID-19
Early on in the fight against the virus, countries banded together to develop various medical solutions to beat the virus. These included a range of antiviral medications and vaccines, which continue to be the mainstay in preventing and treating COVID-19 infection.
However, a small but growing number of studies suggest that another possible way to fight COVID-19 may be probiotics — “good bacteria” that naturally exist in the body.
What are Probiotics?
Collectively, all the good and bad microorganisms (including bacteria and viruses) that live in the human body are referred to as the microbiome.⁵ The helpful bacteria are known as probiotics. They can offer a range of health benefits for your gut, immunity, and more.⁶
How Can Probiotics Keep You Healthy?
One of the most well-known benefits of probiotics is their ability to improve gut health. They do this through several biological processes.
Probiotics can help strengthen the gut barrier — a layer of cells that lines the digestive tract, which helps keep out harmful bacteria and other toxins. Probiotics colonize the sites on the barrier so that toxins don’t adhere to it instead.⁸
They can also prevent the growth of bad bacteria by producing bacteria-killing substances like lactic acid, hydrogen peroxide, and bacteriocins.⁹
The Gut-Lung Axis: How Gut Health Affects Lung Immunity
The gut–lung axis concept proposes that the immune system doesn’t act in isolation within each organ. This means changes in the intestinal microbiome can profoundly affect the immunity of other organs, such as the lungs. It’s proposed that the main connection between gut and lung immunity occurs through the mucosal tissue (soft tissue covering the organs and inner parts of the body), which essentially functions as one organ.
For example, during a COVID-19 infection, these immunity cells don’t just stay isolated in the lungs. When probiotics “activate” the immune cells in the gut, they can move to the lungs to trigger a stronger response to viral infection by producing more antibodies.¹⁶
Limitations of Current Research on Probiotics and COVID-19
Considered together, all this research is promising evidence that certain probiotic strains may help improve respiratory symptoms and shorten the duration of illness in COVID-19.
However, we must still interpret the results with caution.
Firstly, more studies are needed to validate what researchers have discovered. Furthermore, vaccination status wasn’t considered a potential influencing factor in the latest study in Mexico. This means we can’t be sure whether the effects were due to probiotics alone. The results may be skewed.
Should You Start Taking Probiotics to Combat COVID-19?
There’s still no concrete evidence that suggests you should consume specific foods to combat COVID-19. This is because the probiotics used in the studies mentioned above are not readily found in common foods.
So, what about probiotic supplements? Again, because the research in this area is still in its early stages, experts can’t recommend spending extra money on something that hasn’t been proven to work.
Those with severe illness or compromised immunity must also be careful about taking probiotics as they can cause harmful side effects in this population.²⁰
However, it’s always a good idea to maintain a balanced, fiber-rich diet to boost your overall immunity. Part of the reason for this is that probiotics need fiber to thrive. Good sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts.
Emerging evidence shows that probiotics could play a key role in preventing and treating COVID-19 in the future. However, research is still in its early stages. Experts are not recommending buying probiotic supplements just yet.
While eating probiotic-rich foods is always a healthy choice, it may not directly prevent you from getting COVID-19 or reduce its symptoms. This is because the probiotics used in current research aren’t those that are usually found in common foods like yogurt.
The best way to minimize your chances of getting COVID-19 and recovering well is by maintaining a balanced diet, staying up to date with vaccines, and practicing good personal hygiene.