A Probiotic Found in Common Foods Could Help Ward off the Flu

Updated: Mar. 02, 2021

It can also help prevent some more serious flu-related complications, like pneumonia.

Cold illness medicaments, tea and tissues on blue backgroundCandyBox Images/ShutterstockChills, fever, and body aches are a few of the clear signs you have the flu, which is responsible for anywhere from three to five million severe illnesses and up to half a million deaths worldwide during epidemics, despite the annual availability of flu shots. These grim statistics inspired a group of scientists at Georgia State University to seek out an alternative to the flu shot. What they found is that a common probiotic (live bacteria that’s good for your health) can both help prevent flu and stave off some of more serious flu complications, such as pneumonia (here are some other things you should know about the flu). They wrote about their findings in a study recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

The scientists were already armed with the knowledge that lactobacillus casei DK128, or as it is more commonly known, lactic acid bacteria (or simply, LAB) can provide partial protection against bacterial infectious diseases, including pneumonia, as well as cold and flu viruses. What remained unknown was how this protection works. To answer this question, the scientists assembled three groups of mice. One was pretreated with a low dose of LAB. The second was pretreated with a high dose of LAB. The third was not given LAB at all.

The results were as follows:

  • Mice in the first (low dose of LAB) group survived the flu but lost weight.
  • Mice in the second (higher dose of LAB) group survived the flu and did not lose weight.
  • Mice in the third (control) group showed severe weight loss and died.

The scientists concluded that the probiotic had equipped the mice with immunity against a lethal secondary infection by protecting them against potential flu-related weight loss and increasing viral loads. Better still, the protection conferred by LAB wasn’t specific to any one strain of flu.

LAB is found naturally in various fermented vegetables—such as sauerkraut, which can also help with arthritis, and dairy products. However, some experts recommend that everyone take a probiotic supplement because it is difficult to eat enough LAB-containing foods to get an adequate dose.

Should you happen to get sick in the meantime, these are the home remedies for cold and flu that really work.