Can they assist with COVID-19 immunity?
The idea of probiotics is for centuries something well known in other cultures. Many old cultures count with them in yogurts, kefirs and even something thought to be new but made recently popular by savvy Hollywood stars, called: Kombucha. A group of researchers looked at Malaysian Kefir, made from fermented grains which contain embedded organisms. Looking at the microbial makeup, the researchers found varied results, depending on the region or grains used. However, they found Lactobacillus spp. was among the most abundant regardless of origin. The effectivity of providing the host with benefit was measured by the organism’s ability to tolerate bile salts, adherence to gut cells, their antioxidant inducing properties and antibiotic susceptibility. (1)
But let’s back up a little bit. The gut microbiome is something we acquire while in the womb, and in fact, those same beneficial organisms have also been found available in human milk. An interesting study looked at the importance of commensal cell lines in children born naturally vs. by cesarean intervention, finding that necessary immune system education or immune response was lessened.(2) The good news is that they found that breast milk restores this important microbiota of children born by cesarean means.
The list of benefits is long and reveals that a balanced gut microbial system may be as important as the immune system. Treatment of Liver Cirrhosis patients showed that SCFA (short-chain fatty acids) work to control abnormal levels of lipids which are typical of the disease. SCFAs are secreted by many organism in the gut which effectively mediate gut hormones and promote cleavage of enzymes that impute metabolic restoration of loss or impaired metabolic functions.(3)
Patients with recurrent Clostridium difficile infections have also been helped by FMT (fecal microbial transplantation) which isn’t what you think, but rather an introduction of probiotics from healthy individuals to the ill patient. When treated overtime, genes known to function in 1°and 2° bile acid biosynthesis were inferred to be upregulated.(4) In addition, they deduced that competition for nutrients, post treatment, may indeed be a factor in suppressing C. difficile infection. Of interest here is that the treatment managed to increase the microbiome similarity almost to that of healthy individuals resulting in reduced occurrences, however, they note that even healthy individuals varied vastly in the bacteria they have in common.
Well, but in 2020 and going on 2021, you might ask: How about the SARS-CoV-2 virus? The CDC is still the best current source, though in my opinion, virologists are not being consulted much these days. Prevention includes hygiene, washing of hands, disinfecting and soon; vaccination! Vaccines are effective for current strains but are rendered less effective as virus mutate. Bacteria found in the gut, on the other hand, have been found to act to emit the stimuli needed for the activation of Interferons (IFNs), inflammatory cytokines, receptors among other gene expression inductions. (5) For example, Lactobacillus rhamnosus was found to cause an increase in serum IgG of children suffering from rotavirus induced diarrhea. While in Japan, L. lactic JCM5805 found in certain yogurts enhanced the IFN-α-mediated response to the influenza virus.(5)
But wait, before you run to the store and buy a bottle of Probiotics, or order Malaysian Kefir, a consultation with your physician is in order, as bacterial or even fungal sepsis cases do exists predominantly to those with organ lesions, infants and the immune deficient. Benefits are reaped overtime, and let’s not forget, that a good and healthy diet goes a long way in creating and maintaining your own unique and ideal gut microbiota. Lastly, if you feel savvy, enjoy a kombucha. The actress Lindsay Lohan likes it and even used it as an excuse when jailed for drunk driving. Yes, some do contain alcohol, but Lindsay did not only drink Kombucha that day.
- Talib, N., Mohamad, N., Yeap, S., Hussin, Y., Aziz, M., Masarudin, M., Sharifuddin, S., Hui, Y., Ho, C. and Alitheen, N., 2019. Isolation and Characterization of Lactobacillus spp. from Kefri Samples in Malaysia. Molecules, 24(2606), pp.1-18.
2. Guo, C., Zhou, Q., Li, M., Zhou, L., Xu, L., Zhang, Y., Li, D., Wang, Y., Dai, W., Li, S. and Zhang, L., 2020. Breastfeeding restored the gut microbiota in caesarean section infants and lowered the infection risk in early life. BMC Pediatrics, 20(1).
3. Usami, M., Miyoshi, M. and Yamashita, H., 2015. Gut microbiota and host metabolism in liver cirrhosis. World Journal of Gastroenterology, 21(41), pp.11597-11608.
4. Staley, C., Kaiser, T., Vaughn, B., Graiziger, C., Hamilton, M., Rehman, T., Song, K., Khoruts, A. and Sadowsky, M., 2018. Predicting recurrence of Clostridium difficile infection following encapsulated fecal microbiota transplantation. Microbiome, 6(1).
5. Kanauchi, O., Andoh, A., AbuBakar, S. and Yamamoto, N., 2018. Probiotics and Paraprobiotics in Viral Infection: Clinical Application and Effects on the Innate and Acquired Immune Systems. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 24(6), pp.710-717.