Systematic reviews carried out by York Health Economics Consortium (YHEC) and the Cochrane Collaborative using numerous scientific studies, have shown that the use of probiotics for acute respiratory tract infections (RTIs) could save those that pay for healthcare and the economy in the US as much as $1.4bn in medical bills and lost productivity. The term RTI includes influenza-like illnesses from a mild cold, cough and chest infection to full blown flu. Often these types of illnesses clear up within a couple of weeks BUT they result in numerous doctors visits, absence from work and are known to be a heavy burden on the healthcare system.
The study in Frontiers in Pharmacology, carried out by a US-Europe team, reported probiotics use to be associated with the reduced number and duration of flu-like illnesses, antibiotics used and absence from work. The researchers performed a simulation based on each systematic review of the evidence for populations using probiotics and those not using probiotics.
The Cochrane review concluded that if everyone in the US took probiotics, health care payers would save $373m in RTI-associated medical bills in one year. The savings included the cost of more than 2m courses of antibiotic prescriptions avoided and a decrease of 54.5m sick days. Add on the savings from reduced productivity of a loss of 4.M2m workdays, savings would amount to $1.4bn! The YHEC review concluded that the use of probiotics could save $784m per year by preventing/reducing work absences due to illness.
If this is what it could do in the US, what could it do here for the NHS, the workplace and of course, our own health and wellbeing?! If each of us took responsibility for our own health and prepped ourselves in the winter by taking a probiotic supplement from October to March there could be a great reduction in illness in the population this time of year when it is most prevalent. This is certainly my recommendation.
Another important point is to have your vitamin D tested because a deficiency will make you more susceptible to colds and flu. It’s easy to test your vitamin D with a finger prick test at home (unless you can convince your doctor to test), aim for 125 nmol/l spray of vitamin D and K2 (ensures absorbed calcium goes to the bone not the soft tissue). Calculate your dosage here after testing. For more info on vitamin D read this. Together probiotics and vitamin D supplementation pack a powerful immune support punch.
The studies used in these reviews included interventions from a variety of different Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains including L. plantarum, L. paracasei, L. gasseri, B. Longum and B. bifidum. The most important factor with probiotics is to make sure they are tried and tested to withstand stomach acid otherwise their effectiveness is greatly reduced. Evidence has shown that liquid probiotics may have more staying power in the gut. Always check with your nutritional therapist before trying a new supplement.
Don’t like the idea of supplemental probiotics? There’s a range of probiotic foods you can eat or drink to prepare your gut for the winter. Check out my article here.