If you pay attention to the ads on TV, the second you get a sniffle you should run to Walgreens and down half a bottom of nightime-this or daytime-that. Symptom suppression is the name of the game. If that fails, resort to antibiotics.  But what if the answer is exactly the opposite?

By now almost everyone has heard about probiotics. Many times it may only be a rudimentary understanding that yogurt contains some type of bacteria in it that is good for you. 

The reality is that, over the course of hundreds of thousands of years, our bodies have developed a mutually beneficial relationship (called commensal) with the bacteria in our gut. The benefits to us are immense. Protection from nasty beings trying to infect us, detoxification of toxins from the environment, balancing of our immune system, production of certain vitamins like B12…the list is longer, but you get the idea.

The balancing of the immune system as well as the guarding of our gut and pharynx from competing viruses, bacteria and yeast clearly has the potential to lower our risk of infection. And sure enough, multiple studies have found this to be the case.

This particular review, done by the Cochrane Collaboration, which is a mutlinational think tank that evaluates medical research, continues to support the use of probiotics to lower the risk of an upper respiratory tract infection. In general, taking probiotics lowered the risk of getting an infection by 42% and, in conjunction, lowered the use of antibiotics in the studies. Not too shabby, especially considering that there is nothing, nada, zip, zilch in the armamentarium of mainstream medicine to support immune function and lower our risk of getting sick.

Now for my two cents…

If you are going to take probiotics, make sure that the levels are high enough. These are usually measured in colony forming units (CFU). Yogurt is not going to get you there.  The brand we recommend for routine use has 20 billion CFU / capsule. Make sure you read the label as many brands have much lower levels.

The jury on exactly what strains to take for what condition is still out (and probably will never reconvene, so don’t wait for it…), so a broad spectrum probiotic is best.

James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.