Probiotics May Be Effective Cold Remedy

Probiotics modestly help stave off colds and the need for antibiotics to treat them, according to a Cochrane review. Taking doses of healthy bacteria in yogurt and supplements was associated with 12 percent fewer acute upper respiratory tract infections, Bi Rong Dong, MD, of Sichuan University in Sichuan, China, and colleagues found.

Antibiotic use to treat these infections was also lower compared with individuals not taking probiotics in the pooled randomized trials, the group reported in The Cochrane Library. “The evidence is weak, but our review shows a benefit in using probiotics to prevent acute upper respiratory tract infections,” Dong’s group wrote.

Prior reviews have also supported probiotics for treating infectious diarrhea, preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea, and treating vaginal infections in pregnancy, they noted.


Probiotics, which most commonly include lactic acid bacteria and bifid bacteria, may exert their immune-boosting effect by bolstering gut wall integrity, Dong’s group explained.

They pooled results of 10 randomized controlled trials in 3,451 participants across varying ages — from infants to adults in their 40s — aimed at prevention of upper respiratory tract infections with probiotics taken for more than a week, compared with a placebo or no treatment. Probiotics reduced the number of individuals who had at least one acute upper respiratory tract infection by 42 percent.

Among the three trials that also reported on the proportion of participants who had three or more such acute infections, probiotics had a similar benefit.

Mean duration of the infections wasn’t significantly reduced in pooled results from the two studies that reported this outcome. Adverse events reported with probiotics largely fell under the gastrointestinal category, such as vomiting and flatulence, but weren’t more common than among controls. The researchers cautioned, though, that these results were limited by a high level of heterogeneity, only one or two studies for some outcome measures, and no data regarding use among older people.

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