Do Probiotics Help With Cold and Flu?

Symptoms of the common cold and flu can be powerful enough to bring even the strongest women and men to their knees. However, adding some microscopic organisms to their diet could be their saving grace. Could beneficial bacteria—aka probiotics—help prevent cold and flu and potentially save lives?

More than 51,000 deaths per year in the United States are attributed to the flu and pneumonia, and the common cold affects about 1 billion Americans every year. Despite research suggesting that use of probiotics could be helpful in preventing and even treating these two common respiratory conditions, there is no mention on the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention website of how these beneficial bacteria can play a role.

Read about 8 reasons to take probiotics

That doesn't mean there aren't scores of studies that have demonstrated the advantages of taking probiotics to help enhance the function and strength of the immune system and establish a healthy bacterial balance in the gut, both of which in turn could make it more challenging for cold and flu viruses to take hold.

Colds, flu, and probiotics

Consuming a healthy diet is one of the key elements to help ensure a vital immune system. Eating a sufficient amount of macronutrients (protein, carbs, healthy fats) as well as choosing whole, natural foods rich in essential nutrients rather than processed items are important. Included in that dietary plan should be some foods that provide probiotics—those beneficial bacteria that are so critical for your microbiome and overall health.

Getting probiotics from food is not always convenient, but fortunately, there are supplements that can help you make up the slack. Providing your intestinal tract with high-quality beneficial bacteria is crucial because these microorganisms allow the tract to act as a barrier against invasive organisms, such as bad bacteria, viruses, and parasites. If that barrier becomes weak, however, because of a lack of sufficient "warriors" in the form of probiotics, then these invaders can get through the intestinal walls and enter the bloodstream, opening you up to the possibility of an illness, such as cold or flu.

Supplying your gut with probiotics on a daily basis is recommended so your digestive tract, as well as your entire body, can maintain its vigilance against harmful microorganisms and promote overall health.

Read about why you need to take probiotics if you take antibiotics

A natural approach to colds and flu

Boosting your immune system to ward off colds and flu or beating them if they take over requires several steps:

Daily intake of probiotics: In the form of food, supplements, or both. Aim for about 50 billion CFUs daily, which can be increased if you should develop a cold or flu. Probiotic supplements can be added easily to smoothies, which makes it convenient to get your beneficial bacteria along with other nutrients, especially if you are ill and don't feel like eating

A healthy, natural foods diet: steer clear of processed foods and load up on fresh (organic if possible) produce, whole grains, nuts, seeds, lean protein, and green tea. Be sure to get at least 25 grams or up to 50 grams of fiber, which nourish beneficial bacteria

Adequate sleep: between 7 and 8 hours nightly

Regular physical activity: but of course, rest if you come down with a cold or flu

Stress management: daily practice of deep breathing, meditation, progressive relaxation, yoga, tai chi, or other stress reduction is recommended

Get garlic: This herb not only boosts the immune system, but it also has antimicrobial and antiviral properties and can shorten the duration of a cold or flu. Consume several cloves daily in honey, smoothies, or soup.

You can successfully face the cold and flu season with a tool chest of lifestyle armor, as mentioned above.

[Editor's Note: Bio-K+ has a clinically proven line of probiotics, that are effective for c. difficile and antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Plus they can help with colds and flu when we use them to help our immune system and microbiome stay strong.]

Bio-K+ Probiotics

CDC. Deaths and mortality
CDC. Common cold: protect yourself and others
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Deborah is a freelance health writer who is passionate about animals and the environment. She has authored, co-authored, and written more than 50 books and thousands of articles on a wide range of topics. Currently, she lives in Tucson, Arizona.