How Probiotics Help You Stay Strong Amidst Coronavirus
Institut Allergosan, Competence Center for Microbiome Research and the founder of OMNi-BiOTiC® investigated the role of gut health and probiotics in strengthening the body against Coronavirus. Read on for their insightful findings.
Over the past few weeks, Coronavirus COVID-19 has spread worldwide to over 90 countries. Its rapid expansion poses significant challenges to local healthcare systems as well as international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) that are trying to contain the outbreak. The exponential shape of the curve suggests that further surges are to be expected before a global decline.
The hygiene measures (such as frequent and thorough handwashing) that have been advocated so far seem to only be partially successful in containing the outbreak. COVID-19 can survive on contaminated surfaces, such as doorknobs and handles in buildings and means of transportation, for up to nine days. This makes it difficult to prevent the spread of the pathogen, even if the main transmission route represents the droplet infection from person to person.
However, contact with the virus does not necessarily mean that an individual will become infected. The body knows how to defend itself and is equipped with a series of quite efficient defense mechanisms.
Pathogens try to penetrate the body, preferably through thin epithelial layers, which are mainly found in the mucous membranes of the body, such as the mouth, eyes, nose, lung and digestive tract. Not surprisingly, this is also where a large portion of our immune system is located. The eyes and nose are protected by a mucus layer, which makes it difficult for viruses and bacteria to enter the body.
The digestive tract, however, is particularly vulnerable due to its incredible surface area (up to the size of a tennis court!). Luckily, it is equipped with many immune functions to help fight pathogens, including harmful bacteria and viruses (Helander & Fandriks 2014). The role of the gut in fending off Coronavirus has received little attention so far but should be considered in light of the following:
Saliva samples yielded the highest number of positive RT-PCR results (= molecular gene sequence determination). In addition, viral nucleic acids were detected in 50% of the stool samples of the patients with the disease. The viruses extracted from the stool were still infectious, which makes transmission via skin contact possible at any time. [Quote from Management of Coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19): The Zhejiang Experience]
This suggests that initial infection can most likely also occur via the digestive tract.
Interestingly, this goes in line with the observation that many COVID-19 patients have microbial dysbiosis in the form of a reduced number of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. These are two species of good bacteria (probiotics) that live in the intestines of healthy individuals and help form a natural barrier against germs that may enter the body. Once the natural barrier formed by these probiotic bacteria is disturbed, this increases the risk of infection. In turn, restoring the intestinal barrier via probiotic bacteria such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria can help reduce the likelihood of viral infections.
Numerous studies have shown that the administration of probiotic lactic acid bacteria (LAB) such as L. plantarum, Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus fermentum leads to a reduction in the negative effects of the influenza virus (Maeda et al. 2009; Boge et al. 2009; Olivares et al. 2007). In addition, the combined administration of L. rhamnosus and B. animalis reduced the incidence of viral respiratory diseases (Rautava et al. 2009). [Quote from Arena, Capozzi & Russo 2018,p. 9954]
Lactobacilli are demonstrably able to positively influence the course of a flu infection. A combination of L. rhamnosus and B. animalis* could even reduce the likelihood of a viral respiratory infection.
* included in OMNi-BiOTiC® BALANCE
Influenza (left) and Coronaviruses (right) are RNA viruses and are structurally similar. Both have distinctive extensions on their surface, which allow them to establish a particularly stable anchorage of the virus on the host cell:
Nevertheless, there is legitimate reason to believe that the infection rate of both diseases can be significantly reduced even after contact with the virus has already taken place:
Direct interaction is the most common process by which probiotic bacteria inactivate viruses. This is done either by absorbing the virus or capturing it (Al Kassaa et al. 2014). The probiotic bacterial strains Enterococcus faecium* and Lactobacillus gasseri are known for their ability to inactivate influenza viruses by direct inactivation (Al Kassaa et al. 2015; Wang et al. 2013). Probiotics often adhere to the surface of the intestinal epithelial cells, preventing the virus from occupying receptors of the cell wall and penetrating the cell (Bermudez-Brito et al. 2012; Varyukhina et al. 2012).
There is clear scientific evidence that select probiotic bacterial strains can inactivate viruses before they make direct contact with the epithelial cells of the mucous membranes.
Furthermore, specific probiotic bacterial strains can promote antiviral effects indirectly by stimulating the immune system. Clinical tests with the specially developed multispecies probiotic (OMNi-BiOTiC® BALANCE) showed a significant increase in secretory immunoglobulin A. Secretory immunoglobulin A is the defensive molecule secreted by intestinal cells in order to render viral and bacterial pathogens harmless (Young 1999).
In addition, probiotic bacteria themselves can produce antiviral substances. For example, lactic acid bacteria (LAB) can inhibit the proliferation of the HIV virus by secreting hydrogen peroxide (Conti et al. 2009). Lactate, the main product of LAB metabolism lowers the pH in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) and thus makes the environment unfavorable for viruses to survive (Martin et al. 1985, 2010; Tuyama et al. 2006).
In conclusion, a healthy gut microbiome plays a critical role in strengthening the immune system and in defending against foreign bacteria and viruses. Multiple scientific studies point to different ways by which specific good bacteria in our intestines activate the immune system and inactivate viruses. Considering this information, taking a high-quality, multispecies probiotic such as OMNi-BiOTiC® BALANCE can play a vital role in supporting the body’s immune system.
Arena MP, Capozzi V, Russo P, et al. Immunobiosis and probiosis: antimicrobial activity of lactic acid bacteria with a focus on their antiviral and antifungal properties. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 2018;102:9949-9958.