Your immune system is an intricate, highly-involved structure responsible for defending your body against attack from harmful organisms. A number of components strengthen immune health, including probiotics. Recent research has shown certain strains of beneficial bacteria could be helpful against cold and flu. Probiotics, an important aspect of health that is greatly under-consumed, is perhaps one of the best dietary strategies helpful for boosting the immune system. Fortunately, there are easy ways to incorporate probiotics into one’s lifestyle during the cold and flu season, like taking a multi-strain supplement and eating probiotic-rich foods.
Bifidobacterium: A Natural Approach to Immune Support
A recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found probiotics – the Bifidobacterium bifidum strain, in particular – may be an effective against cold and flu.  This double-blind, placebo-controlled study examined the effects of probiotic supplementation with highly-stressed undergraduate students. As we all know, psychological stress is one of the leading contributors to immune function inhibition, and not managing it properly can result in greater missed days from school and work due to illness.  Fortunately, immune health can be supported, if not improved, by incorporating daily stress management techniques, like meditation.
According to the study, implementing natural dietary strategies is also a big help. Supplementation with B. bifidum appeared to reduce the number of sick days among 581 students over a six-week period compared to placebo. The students reporting missing one or more days of school due to the cold or flu was significantly less with this bacterial strain, showing Bifidobacterium bifidum as a possible source of immune-supportive benefits. This makes sense, if we consider the fact that the majority of immune cells reside in the intestines and need regulators (bacteria) to help modulate healthy expression. 
Probiotics: Your First Line of Defense
Your diet and lifestyle are two key components for keeping your immune system strong, protecting it from foreign invaders prevalent in the environment. Staying away from sugar, for example, can be extremely effective, because refined sugar and refined carbohydrates in general (like white flour) suppresses immune function.  Increasing your intake of vitamin C through leafy greens and small berries, like mulberries, can also support your defense system.  Citrus fruits are also excellent supporters of immune health, but try to limit your intake of citrus juice, which is just liquid sugar with vitamins.
Again, stress provides a huge impact on immune health, and not managing it properly can lead you more susceptible to the cold and the flu. Meditation and proper sleep habits are crucial for managing stress levels and are also completely free. Exercise is also an important supporter of good health and is believed to play a role in overall disease prevention. So, in combination with an appropriate diet rich in probiotics, make sure you are staying active throughout the day.
Have the Cold? Do This
When you find you’re succumbing to symptoms of the common cold or flu, one of the things you should take is a high-quality probiotic supplement that contains different probiotic strains as well as prebiotics. The intake of prebiotics, like in the form of inulin, help probiotics grow and colonize the intestinal tract. Also, be sure to increase your fluid intake and get as much rest as you can.
What do you do when you feel a cold coming on? Leave your tips in the comments!
- Langkamp-Henken B, Rowe CC, Ford AL, et al. Bifidobacterium bifidum R0071 results in a greater proportion of healthy days and a lower percentage of academically stressed students reporting a day of cold/flu: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Br J Nutr. 2015 Feb 14;113(3):426-34. doi: 10.1017/S0007114514003997.
- Dhabhar FS. Effects of stress on immune function: the good, the bad, and the beautiful. Immunol Res. 2014 May;58(2-3):193-210. doi: 10.1007/s12026-014-8517-0.
- Hill DA, Artis D. Intestinal bacteria and the regulation of immune cell homeostasis. Annu Rev Immunol. 2010;28:623-67. doi: 10.1146/annurev-immunol--3-409-101330.
- Ian A. Myles. Fast food fever: reviewing the impacts of the Western diet on immunity. Nutr J. 2014: 13: 61. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-13-61.
- Sorice A, Guerriero E, Capone F, et al. Ascorbic acid: its role in immune system and chronic inflammation diseases. Mini Rev Med Chem. 2014 May;14(5):444-52.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.