Can probiotics help lower the risk of getting COVID-19? Since the pandemic started, its reported that about five million people have died. Many of those who experience the illness develop mild to moderate symptoms.
But what might surprise you is that the severity of the illness and how severe the symptoms you might experience depends on the immune system individual response. This is great news for those of us who are taking proactive roles in supporting the immune system.
What we know is that inflammation plays a major role in the severity of the disease and the severity of COVID- 19 symptoms. So, the question becomes, which factors determine the course of COVID-19? Can these factors be modified through diet, nutrition, and lifestyle and what can we do proactively to help arm our immune system.
A growing body of research suggests that people with COVID-19 infection have an imbalance between friendly gut bacteria and an overgrowth of unfriendly pathogenic(disease causing) bacteria. In Functional medicine, this gut dysbiosis is a common problem seen not only with patients who have COVID-19, but virtually all patients who have chronic health problems. The question we have to ask ourselves is…. what does the microbiome look like of these people who are getting sick and dying from COVID look like? We know that a dysbiosis in the gut microbiome can trigger a leaky gut which is a major driving factor for systemic widespread body inflammation and we know that inflammation is a major problem for those with severe COIVD-19.
The Gut Microbiome and Leaky Gut
The immune system is particularly interconnected with gut bacteria. As we know, most of the human microbiota resides in the gut, and as it turns out, so does 70-80% of the body’s immune system. The relationship between the two is symbiotic whereby they’ve evolved together to ensure that the body is protected and is eliminating any harmful pathogens that it comes into contact with. The immune system is particularly interconnected with gut bacteria. As we now know, most of the human microbiota resides in the gut, and as it turns out, so does 70-80% of the body’s immune system. The relationship between the two is symbiotic whereby they’ve evolved together to ensure that the body is protected and is eliminating any harmful pathogens that it comes into contact with.
When studies have looked at the microbiome of healthy individuals and compared them to individual with COVID-19, the microbiome of those patients with COVID-19 was significantly altered and weakened. These studies have been confirmed in countries around the world. It has been long known that probiotics support gut microbial health and now emerging studies are showing that probiotics and supporting the gut microbiome, may reduce the risk symptoms and severity of COVID-19.
When the intestinal lining becomes injured or damaged (leaky gut) problems arise. This insult, can allow large, undigested food particles, intestinal microbes, toxins, bacteria, and viruses to enter the bloodstream. As these foreign entities enter the blood stream, they are viewed as foreign invaders. This can trigger an immunological response from the body. Studies are now showing that SARS-CoV S protein binds to LPS and are a part of the widespread inflammatory response we so often see in COVID 19 patients.
When the immue system becomes activated, antibodies to LPS are produced. The end result is an inflammatory response in various parts of the body. Certain conditions, such as ankylosing spondyloarthritis, Psoriatic arthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis ulcerative colitis, can also affect the lining of the intestine.
What Does Stool Testing Show us About COVID 19.
Some of the pathogens found in stool samples taken from COVID-19 patients are Enterococcus, Clostridium and Candida.
Enterococcus is a gut bacterium that can cause bloodstream infections, Clostridium hathewayi, a type of bacteria that can cause pneumonia and candida is a yeast in the gut bacteria that can also cause blood and lung infections.
So here is something to think about if we truly want to focus on supporting our immune system, what is the health of your gut microbiome? Do you have symptoms of gut dysbiosis or Leaky Gut? Do you suffer with bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, reflux, brain fog, skin conditions? If you said yes to any of these, you are struggling with some degree of gut dysbiosis or leaky gut.
The COVID-19 virus is capable of replicating not only in the lungs but also in the gastrointestinal tract. For this reason, the virus can alter and shift the gut microbiome either causing or exacerbating a leaky gut. I have seen a dramatic increase in the number of patients (since COVID) who are now suffering with GI problems or who have had flare ups of their SIBO, IBS, Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colits.
Recent evidence suggests that when COVID-19 disrupts the microbiome, it weakens the gut barrier allowing it to become more permeable. As the gut become more permeable, bacterial, fungal toxins now gain entry into the blood stream. Once these toxins enter the blood stream, your immune system goes into Five alarm mode which ignites the inflammatory response we see in those patients with COVID-19.
A clinical study published in October 2021 confirmed the link between dysbiosis and COVID-19 severity. One of the key beneficial bacteria that was reduced in COVID-19 was F.prausnitzii. This particular bacterium is good for us because it is a major producer of butyrate which is a short chain fatty acid.
I have talked about the importance and benefits of Short Chain Fatty Acids numerous times on my YouTube Channel and throughout this website. Short chain fatty acids such as Butyrate have anti-inflammatory effects. Lower fecal butyrate levels were associated with excessive inflammation in COVID-19 patients.
This dysbiosis could explain some of the symptoms some of the long haulers experience, such as depression, anxiety and brain fog.
4 Reasons why Probiotics Are Important When You Have COVID-19
Still on the fence about Probiotics?
Consider this 2021 review, “The intestinal microbial richness of patients of COVID-19 does not return to normal levels even six months after recovery, but probiotic adjunctive treatment has been found to restore gut homeostasis.” Probiotic supplementation is particularly important for anyone who is prescribed antibiotics.
Individuals with a history of COVID-19, dysbiosis or other chronic diseases are at higher risk of experiencing Leaky Gut, Dysbiosis and excessive inflammation.
- Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus sp and other probiotics such as Saccharomyces boulardii have been shown to improve the health of the gut microbiome when dysbiosis has been identified. Many of these species can be wiped out by the use of antibiotics.
- Probiotics have also been shown to be effective when the gut microbiome has been damaged by antibiotics even when the antibiotic has been used for short term).
- Many people with COVID-19 are prescribed antibiotics. Antibiotics disrupt the bacterial populations in the gut, increase the risk of secondary infections including Candida– yeast overgrowth and contribute to SIBO.
- Probiotics can help can reduce the excessive inflammation caused by antibiotics.
- Keeping a delicate balance in the immune system by eliminating invading pathogens, while still maintaining self-tolerance to avoid autoimmunity, is critical for the body’s health. The gut microbiota that resides in the gastrointestinal tract provides essential health benefits to its host, particularly by regulating immune homeostasis. Moreover, it has recently become obvious that alterations of these gut microbial communities can cause immune dysregulation, leading to autoimmune disorders.