According to a new study, taking a capsule of probiotics, which are designed to boost the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut, may speed up recovery from the coronavirus.
Probiotics are over-the-counter tablets and drinks said to bolster the gut microbiome, the complex intestinal ‘soup’ made up of trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi.
Mounting evidence shows that having the right mix of gut bacteria can boost the body’s immune defences.
For the latest research, half of a group of 300 Covid patients aged 16 to 60 who tested positive on a PCR test but didn’t need hospital treatment were given a probiotic capsule, while the other half were given a placebo.
Probiotics are over-the-counter tablets and drinks said to bolster the gut microbiome, the complex intestinal ‘soup’ made up of trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi
The results, published in the journal Gut Microbes, showed that 53 per cent of those on the probiotic (78 of 147 in this group) were clear of Covid symptoms within a month, compared with 28 per cent (41 of 146) on the placebo.
The supplement, Probio7 AB21, contains four live strains of bacteria — three of them types of lactobacillus.
Ten years ago researchers in the Netherlands found that lactobacillus, found in dairy foods, produced substances that could communicate with nerve cells and reduce the chronic inflammation associated with many diseases.
Previous research has shown that Long Covid sufferers have low lactobacillus levels in their intestines, possibly leading to inflammation throughout the body.
The new study, sponsored by Kaneka, the company which makes the supplement, found those taking the bacteria capsule didn’t just recover more quickly, they also had a lower viral load — the amount of virus circulating in their system.
‘This is encouraging and it appears to be a high-quality, well-conducted trial,’ says Mary Hickson, a professor of dietetics at Plymouth University.
Philip Calder, a professor of nutritional immunology at Southampton University, explains that probiotics ‘can modify’ the gut microbiome. ‘Through this they might help the immune system to function and limit inflammation’. And Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, says that a healthier diet and probiotic supplements are likely to boost microbiome health.
He leads ZOE, a Covid symptom tracker app used by millions. Data from the app showed that people who ate the healthiest diets were 10 per cent less likely to report having Covid, compared with those who ate the unhealthiest diets. They were also 40 per cent less likely to have severe symptoms requiring hospital treatment.
‘The greater the diversity of bacteria in the microbiome, the more effective the immune system,’ says Professor Spector.
But can a daily supplement really beat Covid?
Commenting on the new study, Professor Andrew Smith and Dr Paul Gill, experts in microbial diseases at University College London, warned in an online article: ‘The study excluded those over 60 and did not account for whether volunteers had been vaccinated or not.
‘So we don’t know if probiotics provide any benefit to those most at risk of severe Covid.
‘And taking probiotics may be inappropriate for those with a weakened immune system because of the potential increased risk of infection from consuming large quantities of live bacteria.’