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Boosting Your Immune System This Winter

shutterstock_106241129By Ben Kligler MD, November 28, 2018
People often ask at this time of year what they can do to protect themselves and their kids from colds and flu during the winter. In addition to the typical recommendations to get enough sleep, eat well, and wash hands frequently, there is one more strategy many people are not aware of: probiotics.

Probiotics are the “friendly” bacteria that live symbiotically with us in our gastrointestinal tract and elsewhere in our bodies, bacteria like lactobacillus (found in yogurt) and bifidus. It makes sense of course that having higher levels of these friendly bacteria would be good for digestion and GI problems like diarrhea associated with antibiotics or irritable bowel syndrome. But it turns out that probiotics have effects far beyond the GI tract, including as regulators of our immune systems. Recent studies have shown that people who take probiotics regularly during the winter months have less frequent upper respiratory infections—in fact half as frequent as people not taking them! And when they do get a cold, it is less severe and passes more quickly. [1] This effect is present in both children and adults.

Probiotics are extremely safe—and they come in capsule, powder and liquid form. But it is important to use the right dose and to choose a high quality brand that actually contains living bacteria. The dose of probiotics is measured in “colony-forming units” or CFUs; the right dose for children is 5-10 billion CFUs daily, and for adults 10-20 billion. Quality brands include Culturelle and Jarro which are both widely available—but there are many other good brands as well. If you really want to research this, as well as find unbiased information on the quality of all kinds of supplements and herbal medicines, you can join for a modest fee and access quality information on many different products for a small subscription fee.

So get enough sleep, and eat right—but start taking your probiotics daily as well and you may find yourself getting less colds this coming winter!

[1] Hao Q, Dong BR, Wu T. Probiotics for preventing acute upper respiratory tract infections. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2015 (2); Art. no.: CD006895. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD006895.pub3.

Dr._KliglerDr. Kligler is the Medical Advisor for The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center®. He is also the National Director of the Integrative Health Coordinating Center for the Veterans Health Administration and Research Director for the Center Institute for Research and Education in Integrative Medicine. He is Co-Director of the Beth Israel Fellowship Program in Integrative Medicine, and teaches in the Beth Israel Residency Program in Urban Family Practice. Dr. Kligler is the author of Curriculum in Complementary Therapies: A Guide for the Medical Educator, and co-editor of Integrative Medicine: Principles for Practice, a textbook published by McGraw-Hill. He is also Co-Editor-in-Chief of the peer-reviewed journal Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing.


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