Of all the maladies that the changing seasons can bring--inclement weather, icy roads, seasonal allergies--nothing is as potentially disruptive as the flu. A week or more spent in bed with many more weeks recovering full strength is something few can afford to risk. What's more, the flu can be more than inconvenient; it can be deadly. Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the flu causes almost 60,000 deaths in the United States each year. Getting your annual flu shot can help protect you, but it's not a surefire solution; not every flu strain is covered by the vaccine and immunity can take a few weeks to develop, and certain populations (such as those over the age of 65) remain at higher risk even with the flu shot. So what else can you do to help bolster your immune system and ward off the flu this year? Adding a probiotic supplement to your daily routine (particularly one aimed at improving immune system function like our Colds Suck supplements) can give you immune system the boost it needs in one simple daily pill.

The Unexpected Connection Between Your Gut and Your Immune System

To understand how a probiotic can make that much of a difference in helping you avoid the flu, you first need to understand the surprising link between your digestive system and your immune system. Many people don't think of the two as being connected, but more than 70 percent of your immune system lies in your gut. Indeed, the immune system of your intestines has a greater number of antibody-producing cells than all of the rest of your body combined. In a very direct way, the health of your gut can determine the health of your entire body thanks to its influence on your immune system function. So what determines gut health, then? In short, the balance of good bacteria in your digestive tract--also known as your gut microbiome--determines the health of your gut. Too few beneficial bacteria strains and you'll suffer from a wide range of digestive tract ailments, including a weakened immune system. Boost the numbers of good bacteria that reside in your gut, however, and you'll find that your immune system is bolstered as well, with growing numbers of cells that play a role in seeking out and destroying infectious organisms. You can improve the health of your gut microbiome in a number of ways, from eating healthier to exercising more. However, one of the easiest and most effective things you can do to rebalance your gut's good bacterial population is to take a probiotic supplement. By introducing millions of beneficial strains to your digestive tract, probiotics can help to restore your gut microbiome and promote immune system strength--and may be able to do even more when it comes to fighting the flu.

The Role Probiotics Play in Helping Block Viruses from Entering Your Body

A robust immune system bolstered by a probiotic supplement can help your body fight off infection, but amazingly, probiotics can help your body stop viruses from even entering your body in the first place. How is this possible? Your immune system uses antibodies to fight off toxins, bacteria, and viruses, including the flu virus. Secretory immunoglobulin A (also known as IgA) is one of the most common types of antibodies and can be found in the mucous membranes of your nose and your upper respiratory tract. In other words, IgA acts as the security system for your body, locking the entrances down and preventing viruses such as the flu from getting past the front door. As with so many systems in the body, however, your IgA levels can fluctuate. Insufficient IgA levels can mean that the security system at your nose and upper respiratory tract breaks down, letting flu viruses in. Once the flu virus slips past this barrier and starts infecting cells, it can quickly begin to replicate and spread throughout the body. Clearly, increasing your IgA levels is key to stopping the flu before it can start. But how? Researchers have shown that a number of probiotic strains are effective in increasing the secretion of IgA and cutting off the virus replication cycle that lets the flu virus take hold in your body. In one clinical trial conducted during flu season, a group of 250 volunteers were split into two groups. One group received a probiotic strain with five different strains (L. plantarum, L. plantarum, L. rhamnosus, L. rhamnosus and B. lactis) while the other group was given a placebo. Both groups were tracked for 90 days for flu-like symptoms and their severity. After the three-month study period, 16 members of the placebo group contracted the flu while only three individuals who were given the probiotic did. (What's more, those who were given the probiotics also reported 35 percent fewer colds as well as significant reductions in the length of upper respiratory infections and colds.) A similar study showed that taking a quality probiotic supplement led to an almost 50 percent drop in flu cases as well as a 55 percent drop in the number of days that participant who did get the flu reported symptoms. One key effect of taking a probiotic in both cases was boosted IgA production.

How Probiotics Can Help Protect the Most Vulnerable Populations: The Young and the Old

While this type of flu protection is important for everyone, certain groups are even more susceptible to getting the flu and experiencing more severe flu symptoms. Both children and the elderly need to take extra caution during the flu season--and here again, scientific research has shown that probiotics can help safeguard these more vulnerable populations. In one study that looked at the effects of the probiotic Bacillus subtilis CU1 on the immune system function of senior citizens, it was discovered that taking a probiotic supplement led to a 45 percent decline in the number of respiratory infections as well as a 45 percent increase in the amount of IgA in the study participants' saliva--which, as we've seen, is key for warding off flu viruses. Similarly, probiotics have been demonstrated to be effective in reducing flu cases in young children. In a study of 326 three- to five-year-old children, children who were given a probiotic supplement instead of a placebo had fewer flu-like symptoms, needed to be prescribed antibiotics less frequently, and missed fewer days of school.

Fight the Flu Your Way

Altogether, the evidence that probiotics can help you avoid the flu is overwhelming, and adding a daily supplement such as LoveBug Probiotics' Colds Suck can help prevent you from being stuck in bed for weeks this fall and winter.