It’s that time of year again. The season where the box of Kleenex becomes your best friend. And if not, you may well be avoiding your best friends who are coughing and spluttering their way through your night out.

We all know that it’s beneficial to boost your vitamin C levels during winter and certainly when you get a cold but is there anything else you can do to help boost your immunity? The latest research suggests that probiotics may well make it less likely to get a cold, and reduce the severity of it if you do catch one.

woman sneezing

The study

Acute psychological stress is positively associated with a cold/flu. This randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study1 which took place at the University of Florida, examined the effect of three strains of probiotic bacteria on the proportion of healthy days over a 6-week period in 581 academically stressed undergraduate students (during their finals) The students received Lactobacillus acidophilus Rosell-52, Bifidobacterium infantis Rosell-33Bifidobacterium bifidum Rosell-71 or a placebo.

The results were interesting. 37% of the placebo group spent at least one day suffering from cold or flu symptoms. But only 24% of those taking the probiotic B. bifidum Rosell-71 became sick. Students who took B. bifidum Rosell-71 also reported fewer cold/flu episodes than the placebo group. And if they did catch a bug, it lasted an average of 1.8 days versus 2.4 days.

The reason they ran this research on stressed students as author Bobbi Langkamp-Henken, head of the Henken Laboratory at the University of Florida said “We know that a certain percentage of college students are going to become ill during fall finals. They are likely get sick because they are stressed, stay up all night studying, eat junk food, and live and study in close proximity with other students who have a cold or the flu.”

This study suggests therefore that a daily intake of Bifidobacterium bifidum Rosell-71 provides benefit related to cold/flu outcomes during acute stress. In addition a recent systematic review and meta-analysis2 the effect of probiotics, specifically Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains, on the duration of acute respiratory infections in otherwise healthy children and adults was evaluated. The meta-analysis revealed a significantly fewer numbers of days of illness per person, shorter illness episodes by nearly a day as well as fewer numbers of days absent from day care/school/work in those participants who received a probiotic intervention than in those who had taken a placebo. The review therefore concluded that this provides evidence that probiotics reduce the duration of illness in otherwise healthy children and adults.


How can bacteria possibly help reduce or prevent colds?

The amazing fact behind these findings is that our gut flora plays a massive role in mediating our entire immune response. In fact 70% of our immune system lies in our intestinal tract. Therefore the healthier and more diverse our gut flora, the better.

Intestinal flora may help our immune system in several different ways.

Firstly it provides a physical barrier to colonisation by foreign, deleterious microbes. They do this simply by taking up space and being more proficient at utilising nutrients than the ‘invading bacteria’. This is why early colonisation of the intestinal tract is so important to keep a child’s immune system healthy. 

Secondly, and amazingly intestinal flora actually communicates with certain aspects of the immune system to help them focus on invading microbes. It has been found that the bacteria in the gut actually ‘talks’ to the lymph nodes telling them which bacteria need to be attacked and which don’t! Amazing stuff!

Intestinal flora can also affect the growth and formation of certain organs responsible for immune health. And lets not forget that our gut flora affects the digestion and absorption of food which ultimately affects our nutritional status and for example the absorption of zinc and vitamin C and antioxidants which all also contribute towards a healthy immunity.

Specific Strains for Specific Conditions

More research is required on exactly when and how much probiotic can make the optimum difference. However a key outcome of this study is that the strain Bifidobacterium bifidum Rosell-71 found in our 'For every day' and 'For babies and children' supplement, had the most beneficial effect when given to adults and assessed for its immune supporting properties.  Whilst in this study the strain Lactobacillus acidophilus Rosell-52 had no significant effect, we know that this latter strain has been tested and shown to have numerous health properties, for example in 2010 was found to help reduce anxiety when taken with another strain (read more about the anxiety study here). We also know that all three strains of bacteria studied in this cold and flu trial, when combined with a prebiotic, were found to help support immunity in children and reduced infection by 25%! Healthcare professionals can read more about the scientific research on 'For babies & children', which contains all of these three strains.  So here we see how this study adds to the understanding that when it comes to probiotics, it is important to get the best strain for any given condition.

Either way, this year colds and flu have been rife so we are excitedly waiting for more research on this matter to give even more clarity as to the possible benefits of probiotics to our immune system. It may even save money on Kleenex!

What are your thoughts on this?

Related and recent blog posts:

Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07 supports the immune system in elderly

Kissing keeps you healthy and supports your immune system

1. Langkamp-Henken et al. (2015) Bifidobacterium bifidum R0071 results in  greater proportion of healthy days and lower percentage ofacademically stressed students reporting a day of cold/flu: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. British Journal of Nutrition 2015 Jan 21:1-9

2. King S, Glanville J, Sanders ME, Fitzgerald A, Varley D (2014) Effectiveness of probiotics on the duration of illness in healthy children and adults who develop common acute respiratory infectious conditions: a systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Nutrition Jul 14;112(1):41-54

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  • I have be taking your Probiotics since beginning Nov.2014.A couple of weeks prior to Christmas I felt I had something in my throat.No soreness or anything, the only way I can describe it is that it felt like something really small stuck there. Nothing much happened for a while then I began to suddenly come over rather drained and tired. Then one day in early January my nose started to run and I thought 'well looks like I must have been fighting a cold and here it is'.This runny nose lasted about 5 hours and totally disappeared.(I had been taking Vogels Echinacea 20 drops per day all this time).The fatigue continued to hit me at odd moments.About 3 weeks ago I developed a chesty cough, one day I had such a bad bout of coughing that I put my back out! For the last 2 weeks I have been constantly blowing my nose, the infection in my chest is at least coming out now I am not coughing so much. Some days I am still feeling really exhausted.So, probiotics do not seem to be having much effect on me as yet! My husband is delighted that they are helping control his diverticulitus. I had a flu jab for the first time early in December and I wonder if that could be anyting to do with my problem. I had it much against my better judgement, I gave in to peer pressure! I am 67 by the way. So I would be very interested to know how your research into probiotics and colds etc works out. Thank you kind regards Linda.

  • Dear Linda,

    Thank you for your comments and feedback.

    I am very pleased that your husband is finding such a positive benefit from taking our product, but am sorry that you do not appear to be experiencing any improvement in your own symptoms. You do not say which of our products you are using, but as every individual’s needs are different, it may be worth switching to another product in our range to see if this suits you better.

    During the winter months, many people choose to take one of our daily products, either ‘For every day’ or ‘For every day EXTRA Strength.’ We also offer a designated product to help support immune function; this is called ‘For daily immunity’ and contains antioxidants such as vitamin C along with probiotic cultures.

    Unfortunately, I cannot comment on the impact of products from any other company, or the effects of your flu vaccine. You may wish to speak to your doctor about this.

    If you would like further advice about how to choose the best product for your needs, please do not hesitate to contact me on [email protected]

    Wishing you the best of health,


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