In recent times, a group of scientists found out that a specific type of good bacteria, known as lactobacillus, can help delay and lessen the effects of COVID-19.
This was especially seen in people who hadn’t gotten their COVID vaccine but were living with someone who had COVID. This discovery was shared by researchers in a new study.
The study was well-planned and fair, making sure that some people got the actual probiotics while others got a harmless pill with no effect (placebo).
The researchers wanted to see if probiotics could be an easy and cheap way to help people who might have been exposed to COVID.
This finding comes at a crucial time. In the United States, more people are being hospitalized and dying because of COVID, and this is happening when people are gathering for holiday celebrations.
Moreover, a small portion of the U.S. population, less than 20%, had received the updated 2023 COVID vaccine, according to the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Paul Wischmeyer, a key researcher from Duke University, mentioned that even before COVID, there was solid proof that probiotics could guard against respiratory infections.
When COVID started spreading, they wanted to check if this simple solution could be helpful. Their study showed promising results for using probiotics.
The study began in March 2020, before many people in the U.S. could get the vaccine. It included people who hadn’t been vaccinated but had been close to someone with COVID, yet hadn’t shown any symptoms themselves.
There were 182 people who took part in the study. Half of them were given the probiotic lactobacillus, and the other half were given a placebo pill.
No one, not even the study managers, knew who got the real probiotics and who got the placebo.
The time for enrolling people in the study was shortened. This was because as more people got vaccinated and infections started to decrease, there were fewer people who met the study’s requirements.
After analyzing the data, the researchers found that people who took the probiotic were 60% less likely to show COVID symptoms compared to those who took the placebo.
Also, those who took the probiotic were able to avoid getting infected for a longer time than those who took the placebo.
Even though fewer people in the probiotic group got COVID, the difference wasn’t big enough to be certain because of the number of people in the study.
Wischmeyer wasn’t surprised by these results. He mentioned other studies, including a large one in India, that showed how effective probiotics are against respiratory infections.
Some early studies even suggested that probiotics could make vaccines for other viruses, like the flu, work better.
Probiotics seem to boost our immune system in various ways. They increase the number of helpful T-cells, decrease harmful substances that cause inflammation, protect the lungs from infection, and help our body fight viruses better.
Although the study had a limited number of people, it supports the idea that the good bacteria living in us can be powerful allies against COVID-19 and perhaps other future diseases.
This could be really important in places where not many people have been vaccinated and even in the U.S., where not many have gotten their COVID boosters.
The study was funded by the Duke Microbiome Center and private donations. The company DSM/iHealth provided the probiotics and placebo pills for the study but didn’t influence how the study was done or what was written about it.
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The research findings can be found in the journal Clinical Nutrition.
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