WEEKLY HEALTH BULLETIN September 11, 2009
PROBIOTICS PROTECT YOU AGAINST THE FLU – BUT WHICH ONES WORK BEST?
As more research results become available, probiotics are getting attention to help prevent colds and the flu. These “friendly” bacteria work through the gut to boost the immune system by in several ways. For example, they increase antibody production and stimulate fast acting chemicals called cytokines.
As with vitamin D and flu prevention, much of the research has been done with children. Recent clinical studies shows that children in daycare who drink milk containing a specific strain of Lactobacillus rhamnosus (Culturelle) get fewer and less severe respiratory infections compared to placebo. Another study shows that children who drink milk containing a specific combination of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria animalis have a 45% lower risk of developing flu symptoms compared to placebo.
Although the two studies mentioned above were in children, I suggest is reasonable to generalize these results and apply them to adults.
IS CULTURELLE YOUR BEST BET?
Here’s the rub. The makers of Culturelle took Lactobacillus rhamnosus slightly altered it without affecting its function so they could patent it. By doing so, they can market it as “Culturelle” and claim uniqueness. In turn this allows them to pay for the research, which legitimizes it in the eyes of mainstream physicians, who are anxious to see therapies supported by expensive randomized controlled trials. Now there’s nothing inherently wrong or dishonest about this strategy, although I doubt most doctors are aware of it. And Culturelle in fact appears to be a useful product. Positive studies like the one cited above can only help increase use and awareness of the safe health benefits of probiotics. On the other hand, the manipulations of the makers of Culturelle do not in fact make the best probiotic for this use, or any other for the matter.
There is a considerable weight of expert opinion that suggests that multi-strain high potency probiotics are more effective for more uses than any single strain. There are a number of excellent products along these lines, including VSL #3, Klaire’s Ther Biotic Complete, New Chapter’s All Flora, Jarrow’s Jarro Dophlis + FOS 100 and Mega Food’s Megadophilus.
Simply because they all do not have the research trials behind them does not mean they may not be superior (I know that to those who rigidly adhere to a belief in the need for randomized controlled trials to justify every treatment decision, such a statement amounts to medical heresy!).
In my own practice I use Klaire’s Ther Biotic Complete – usually one or two capsules daily with meals. However, any of the others mentioned are excellent products. In fact, Culturelle is a fine product – it just may not be the best one for the job, research notwithstanding.
ADDITIONAL TIP: In addition to probiotics for the flu season, make sure you included vitamin D. If you have a history of winter colds and flu, consider 5000 IUs daily of vitamin D3. I supply you with a full discussion of how to protect yourself from winter illness in the upcoming October issue.
Alan Inglis MD
American Country Doctor