The gut, filled with billions of bacteria, all interacting with the body’s digestive and immune systems, may play an important role in immunity. That’s because 70 percent of the human body’s immune cells are located in the digestive tract.
Probiotics — live microorganisms or “good” bacteria in your gut — may help boost that immune health. They may potentially decrease risks for cold and seasonal flu, create a stronger gut barrier, and improve beneficial immune cells.
“Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms that take action in the digestive tract,” says Isabèle Chevalier, CEO of Bio-K+ International, a family-run biotech company based in Québec. “They hold the utmost important role of acting like a barrier to the outside world, preventing outsiders [from] penetrating the intestinal barrier (made of mucus and living organisms like bacteria) and making us ill.”
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), recent findings on probiotics show that some probiotic genes could modulate the immune response.
They conclude, “probiotics showed therapeutic potential for diseases, including several immune response-related diseases, such as allergy, eczema, viral infection, and potentiating vaccination responses.”
Stimulating immune system response
Probiotics “are nature’s smallest warriors,” says clinical epidemiologist Lynne V. McFarland, Ph.D., who has been studying probiotics for 35 years.
Probiotics work in multiple ways to help kill off pathogens, including stimulating the body’s immune system response.
“In order to survive in the body, gut bacteria have developed sophisticated ways of communicating with their world. Gut bacteria are able to protect the health of the gut by fighting off bad bacteria which they do by competing for space and resources, in addition to making substances like bacteriocins that kill off harmful bugs,” says Desiree Nielsen,a registered dietician. “As part of their normal metabolism, some gut bacteria create metabolites such as short chain fatty acids that can decrease damaging inflammation, alter production of immune cells, or strengthen the immune defense barrier.
While probiotics are naturally found in foods like yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut, many consumers take probiotic supplements.
“There are so many different probiotic products out there; they’re not all the same,” says McFarland, an affiliate associate professor at the University of Washington, who keeps an on-going database of probiotics.
She’s studied and reviewed 260 types of probiotic formulas/products.
In order for a product to be labeled as a probiotic, there must be validated and documented scientific evidence that supports health benefits.
“When I suggest and recommend a probiotic, it is only those that are backed by at least two randomized control trials,” says McFarland, a member of Bio-K+ scientific advisory board. She notes probiotics’ manufacturers do clinical studies because they want to show their product works.
Bio-K+ International, which specializes in the research, manufacturing, and marketing of Bio-K+® probiotic, commonly used to support digestive and immune health, prides itself as one of the only clinically proven probiotic supplement/products with proven benefits and effectiveness on human health.
It’s been their sole focus for the past 20 years and they have numerous peer-reviewed clinical studies published in prestigious medical journals, including “The American Journal of Gastroenterology” and “Archives of Medical Science.”
Choosing a probiotic
Probiotic capsules must be made so the bacteria can withstand stomach acid. Bio-K+ uses enteric-coated capsules and delayed-release capsules which ensure bacteria pass safely through the stomach to the intestines, where they are integral.
“Probiotics show great potential for immune health but to achieve this, bacteria need to be alive, active, and survive through the acidic environment of the stomach,” says Chevalier.
Refrigerated probiotics are considered high-quality since keeping them refrigerated slows down their lifecycle, thereby saving their food supply and energy.
When choosing a probiotic, make sure the bacterial count is guaranteed until the product’s expiration date. Bio-K+® does batch testing to ensure their products meet those expectations.
Research on probiotics is ongoing. Researchers are excited about the promise that the live, active bacteria may boost immunity.
Consumers considering taking a probiotic should talk to their doctor, pharmacist, or dietitian to make sure they’re taking the appropriate probiotic for their condition, as probiotics are condition-specific.