Can Probiotics Protect the Immune System in Response to COVID-19?

The COVID-19 pandemic has put the whole world on its toes. Since the beginning of the outbreak, scientists around the globe have been working hard towards gaining some insight into the ways it could be alleviated and what the best solution would be.

There is still so much left to investigate regarding possible treatments and vaccines. However, a number of studies emphasize the importance of nutritious substances and bio-active compounds that are known to not only maintain general health but also aid the immune system in protecting the body from viral infections.

One such study from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil focused on the health benefits of probiotics in the modulation of the immune system.

An Overview

The connection between nutrition and infections has been well established by health care professionals for decades now, because, before the use of antibiotics, diet was an essential part of the process of dealing with an infection.

Another connection, between food and inflammation, is also undeniable, considering the global diet habits of eating highly processed foods. What this means is that these diet habits are linked to both inflammation and imbalances in the gut flora, which consequently decreases the body’s resistance to pathogens.

Probiotics have been known to restore this balance in the gut microbiota, and in this way to positively influence and even improve the immune system’s reaction to microorganisms. 

They do this by helping the body absorb nutrients better, fighting off bad bacteria, secrete antimicrobial substances, and help support the lining in your gut.

The Details

Research has indicated that microorganisms which have the ability to influence the gut, and by extension, the immune response, could be used as an adjuvant therapy in the treatment of bacterial and viral infections.

The gut flora contains a mass of active bacteria that play a role in the maturation of immune cells, affecting human health status. However, the balance between good and bad bacteria is never static, and changes in accordance with the diet of the individual.

Highly processed foods increase the bad bacteria, which inevitably leads to increased systemic inflammation and oxidative stress. Consequently, it leads to a lower diversity of good bacteria which disturbs the immune cells.

Given that probiotics control the overgrowth of harmful bacteria, they can indirectly modulate the immune response of the body.

Probiotics may increase the anti-inflammatory cytokines - the peptides released in the body in response to a threat in order to prevent damage - and they decrease the proinflammatory cytokines.

Another property that they have is their ability to stimulate the secretion of antimicrobial peptides in the gut microbiota, thus protecting the body from infections.

Lactobacillus gasseri

The report mentions that there have been some studies on the Lactobacillus gasseri, a specific strain of lactobacilli, which are lactic acid bacteria with probiotic properties. It is one of the dominant species in the human intestines and it has been deemed as multifunctional due to its ability to modulate the immune system as well as produce antimicrobials.

The researchers also mention a recent study where it was confirmed that L. gasseri demonstrated great resilience in the human gut and managed to successfully colonize under difficult conditions, and in this way to improve the gut flora by increasing the abundance of good bacteria.

L. gasseri has also been studied in recent years for its role in viral infections. In two mouse model trials whose focus was respiratory infections, it was found that it had reduced the virus concentration in the lungs and lowered the number of proinflammatory cytokines.

In addition, this probiotic strain has also shown that it can enhance the immune system prior to infection with the Influenza A virus, stimulating the production of the genes that enhance the production of immunoglobulins.

In a human trial, it was also concluded that L. gasseri boosted the immune responses of healthy adults who received an influenza vaccine.

In Conclusion

Probiotics are no doubt necessary for keeping the gut flora and the whole body healthy. There is enough scientific data that points towards their action in the body’s antiviral response, as well as their benefits for the immune system.

Even though the studies are not COVID-19 specific, they leave a lot of room for further research. So far, probiotics alone can’t be used in the treatment for viral infections, but using them as adjuvant therapy or as preventative medicine seems promising.



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