When given preventively over the winter months, probiotics reduce fever, cough, and runny noses in children, researchers said in a new study. They found that a 6-month course of probiotics – good bacteria that can aid immune function – was a safe and effective way to ward off flu symptoms and reduce their duration in 3 -5 year olds.
MedPage reports that “prophylactic Lactobacillus acidophilus alone or in combination with other microorganisms reduced the incidence and duration of all fever, cough, and runny noses symptoms.”
“Daily probiotic dietary supplementation during the winter months was a safe, effective way to reduce episodes of fever, rhinorrhea, and cough, the cumulative duration of those symptoms, the incidence of antibiotic prescriptions, and the number of missed school days attributable to illness,” the researchers said.
The researchers treated nearly 250 kids twice daily for 6 months:
- one group of children received a single strain of probiotic,
- one group received a combination of two probiotics, and
- a third group received a placebo.
Compared to the placebo group, the single and combination probiotics had fairly incredible results”
- reduced fever incidence by 53% and 72.7% respectively,
- decreased coughing by 41.4% and 62.1%, and
- reduced runny noses by 28.2% and 58.5%.
The probiotic groups also used less antibiotics (68 – 84% less), and missed fewer daysof school or childcare due to the flu.
Some strains of probiotics have shown health benefits for adults in a variety of diseases. However, there isn’t a vast literature about the prophylactic benefits of probiotics in a healthy population or in children.
Also, studies have often been conducted with a single strain but few have studied strain combinations. Nor are probiotics routinely recommended in children for prevention of respiratory infection or its symptoms.
At least not until now.
Here are the some home points:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus or L. acidophilus in combination with Bifidobacterium animalis given preventively over the winter months appears to reduce fever, cough, and runny nose in 3-5 year old Chinese children.
- The probiotics also reduced antibiotic use and the number of childcare days absent.
- Interested parents should know that the use of probiotics is not routinely recommended to prevent respiratory infections and further studies are needed to corroborate these results.
- This study was sponsored by Danisco, a maker of probiotics products. The results should be confirmed by a study not funded by a maker of probiotics.
- You can learn more about probiotics in my book, Alternative Medicine: The Christian Handbook.
Here are the details of the study from MedPage:
The researchers assessed 326 healthy children ages 3 to 5 in a group child care center in Jinhua City, China.
They were randomly assigned to twice-daily doses of L. acidophilus or L. acidophilus in combination with Bifidobacterium animalis for six months from November 2005 to May 2006.
A third group was assigned to placebo, and a total of 248 youngsters completed the trial.
The researchers found that while both single- and combination-strain products reduced the incidence of fever, cough, and rhinorrhea (the medical name for ‘runny nose’), the effect was significantly more profound with the combination product.
The single-strain dose significantly reduced the incidence of cough by 41% and fever by 53% (P=0.027 and P=0.0085, respectively), but the reduction in rhinorrhea was not significant.
On the other hand, the combination product significantly reduced the incidence of all three symptoms: cough by 62.1%, fever by 72.7%, and rhinorrhea by 58.8% (P=0.005, P=0.0009, and P=0.03, respectively).
The more profound effect with the combination product may have resulted from the fact that bifidobacteria in the mouth decrease adherence of certain respiratory viruses to the epithelium.
Both products significantly reduced the duration of fever, cough, and rhinorrhea compared with placebo, by 32% for the single strain (P=0.0023) and by 48% for the combination product (P<0.001).
Duration of symptoms averaged about 6.5 days for the placebo group compared with about 4.5 days for acidophilus alone and 3.4 days for the combination product.
Antibiotic use was also reduced compared with placebo, by 68.4% for the single-strain dose (P=0.0002) and by 84.2% for the combination product (P<0.0001).
“Reducing the need for antibiotic use early in life may have important benefits (e.g. reduced adverse reactions, costs and risk for antimicrobial resistance development),” the researchers said.
There were also significant reductions in days absent from childcare, the researchers said.
They added that the incidence of vomiting and diarrhea were low during the study period.
Probiotics may reduce respiratory symptoms and antibiotic use via an immune-enhancing effect, the researchers said, since previous studies have shown an ability of the bacteria to modulate immune responses through interactions with toll-like receptors.