Can probiotics protect you against viruses?

Your gut contains a delicate balance of good and bad bacteria that help regulate your immune system. If that balance gets out of whack (a condition known as gut dysbiosis), it could make you more vulnerable to viral infections… including COVID-19.

When it comes to viral infections and your gut health, here’s the first thing you need to know…

Research shows that any changes to the microbiota in your gut impact your immune response. More specifically, a decline in healthy bacteria species (like Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus) and a rise in unhealthy bacteria can lead to changes like the production of less butyrate and other nutrients that regulate your immune system. But this isn’t a one-way relationship…

Viral infections themselves can cause imbalances in the gut. When a virus enters your body, it interacts with the other living organisms in your microbiome and can even produce gut dysbiosis itself.

This complex relationship between gut health, immunity and viral infections has many researchers wondering what impact your gut health could have on COVID-19. Here’s what they’ve discovered so far…

People with COVID-19 are missing healthy gut bacteria

Research conducted by the Faculty of Medicine of The Chinese University of Hong Kong earlier this year found that there’s a lot of good bacteria missing from the guts of people with COVID-19.

This research team collected data from 15 COVID-19 patients at first and then increased their sample to 150 patients. They also collected data from 1,500 healthy individuals. When they compared gut composition between healthy people and people infected with COVID-19, they noticed that many healthy bacterial strains were missing from people who had the virus. Without those good guys around, more pathogenic strains were taking hold.

Initial gut samples were taken while COVID-19 patients were in the hospital, but researchers found that the gut imbalance continued even after they recovered from COVID-19 and were released. Researchers also found that the number of certain bacteria in COVID patients when they were first admitted to the hospital was connected to how severe their infection got. Having more Coprobacillus, Clostridium ramosum and Clostridium hathewayi was connected to more severe infections. Having more Faecalibacterium prausnitzii (an anti-inflammatory bacterium) was connected to less severe infections.

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After looking at fecal samples, researchers found that having more Bacteroides dorei, Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron, Bacteroides massiliensis, and Bacteroides ovatus was tied to a lower viral load of SARS-CoV-2.

It’s also important to note that in previous studies, probiotics have been shown to prevent gastroenteritis (intestinal inflammation), sepsis and respiratory tract infections (RTIs) — all conditions connected to COVID infections.

Related: Experts agree: Dietary supplements can help in the fight against COVID-19

Because of all this research showing that that microbial balance plays a role in COVID-19 infection, researchers are working on developing a probiotic supplement specifically designed to reduce the risk and severity of COVID-19 infections. But it will be a while before this product makes it to market. Right now, they’re still working on large-scale clinical trials to demonstrate the microbiome-COVID connection and develop the right probiotic formula.

How to make your gut healthier and your immune system stronger

It’s important to make one thing clear… probiotics won’t cure COVID-19. But there is a lot of evidence that keeping your gut microbiome in balance could potentially keep you safer from all infections, and that includes COVID-19.

So, if you suspect you have an imbalance going on in your gut, now is the time to make some changes. Here are some of the symptoms of gut dysbiosis:

  • bad breath
  • upset stomach
  • nausea
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • difficulty urinating
  • vaginal or rectal itching
  • bloating
  • chest pain
  • rash or redness
  • fatigue
  • having trouble thinking or concentrating
  • anxiety
  • depression

The best way to restore balance to your gut is through diet. Eat a healthy diet filled with nutrient-rich, whole foods, and completely cut out the processed stuff… especially sweets. Sugar feeds the bad bacteria in your gut and can make dysbiosis worse.

You’ll also want to invest in a good probiotic (you may want to consider a spore-based probiotic, which is proven to help heal leaky gut, a condition that goes hand in hand with dysbiosis). And don’t forget to manage your stress levels. Stress and gut health are closely connected.

Sources:

  1. Infectious Threats, the Intestinal Barrier, and Its Trojan Horse: Dysbiosis — Frontiers in Microbiology.
  2. Probiotic formula to target imbalance in gut microbiota in COVID-19 — MedicalXpress.
  3. Alterations in Gut Microbiota of Patients With COVID-19 During Time of Hospitalization — Gastroenterology.
  4. Probiotics and COVID-19: one size does not fit all — The Lancet.
  5. The Commensal Microbiota and Viral Infection: A Comprehensive Review — Frontiers in Immunology.
  6. What Causes Dysbiosis and How Is It Treated? — Healthline.

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Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.