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Probiotics Could Shorten Common Cold

A recent study conducted by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey has found that probiotics can reduce the length of a cold in 18-to 25-year-olds, potentially changing the way UW Oshkosh students treat their colds.

According to Pamella MacWilliams, the school nurse, probiotics are regularly prescribed in conjunction with antibiotics in order to restore gastrointestinal health, which antibiotics tend to disrupt.

MacWilliams said, “When you take antibiotics, it kills the natural flora inside your gastrointestinal tract. So probiotics are live bacillus cultures which restore the natural bacteria that are in your gut.”

Probiotics are also provided to anyone by vitamin companies, as a way to replenish good bacteria in the digestive system.

The recent study, led by registered dietician Tracey J. Smith, is the first time probiotics have been used to treat upper-respiratory infections, also known as the common cold & to improve Health-Related Quality of Life (HRQL) during these infections. Smith states in the university press release, “HRQL is subjectively assessed by the patient and most simply defined as the component of overall quality of life that is determined primarily by the person’s health, and that can be influenced by clinical interventions.”

According to the press release, Smith randomized nearly 200 college students who lived on campus at Framingham State University. She gave 97 students a placebo and 101 students a probiotic supplement, specifically probiotic strains BB-12 and LGG, everyday for 12 weeks. Smith was most interested in how probiotics could improve students’ day-to-day lives.

“This double-blind study assessed how probiotic supplementation affects the duration and severity of symptoms, and the impact of symptoms on the daily life of infected students,” Smith said in the press release. Of those who caught colds while participating in the study, those who were taking probiotics experienced colds that were an average of two days shorter than students who were taking the placebo.

The study also found that symptoms were 34% less severe and less school days were missed by those taking the probiotics.

According to the study, although probiotics cannot kill the virus that causes colds, it can help with the symptoms. Smith said, “Cold symptoms, like a stuffy nose and sore throat, are the body’s inflammatory response toward a virus, not a direct action of the virus itself. Probiotic micro-organisms may soften your immune system’s reaction by reducing your body’s inflammatory response.”

The press release also clarified that the study only looked at the effects of two specific strains of probiotics. “These two strains also are in a number of supplement-type products that are available over the counter, but consumers need to read the label to be sure that the product contains Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Bifidobacterium animalis lactic,” Smith said.

Despite these findings, MacWilliams is not yet willing to offer probiotics to Oshkosh students suffering from colds. “The greater concern about probiotics is that they are not regulated by the FDA,” MacWilliams said. Even though Oshkosh isn’t willing to support probiotics just yet, some students are willing to try them to help with their colds. “I would be willing to try probiotics for a cold because they aren’t harmful and might give you other benefits even if they don’t help your cold,” sophomore Llora Waldman said. Others are leery to try probiotics because they are not confident they will help with their symptoms. “I probably wouldn’t take anything besides NyQuil & DayQuil since I’ve found out that those are the only things that work for me when I am sick,” sophomore Nicole Toetz said. MacWilliams also said probiotics can vary in quality.

“Probiotics are a live bacillus bacteria, so if you’re buying probiotics off of the shelf in a pharmacy, knowing what is contained in them is important,” MacWilliams said. Before probiotics can be offered to students suffering from colds at Oshkosh, MacWilliams said there needs to be more studies done to prove they are a beneficial treatment and the treatment has to be approved by more organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We wouldn’t recommend taking anything based on one study,” MacWilliams said. “We practice evidence based medicine here.” Until a variety of sources agree that probiotics can help with colds, MacWilliams suggests students treat colds based on their most bothersome symptoms, such as a sore throat, headache or nasal congestion.

She also recommends taking Zinc supplements at the onset of a cold to help alleviate symptoms and Vitamin C to strengthen the immune system.

Did You Know…

  • Colony Forming Units (CFU) are individual bacteria that serve as the basis for the growth of a colony of bacteria.
  • Probiotics may help to crowd out pathogenic bacteria in our colon.
  • 12 is the number of grams of added sugar kids should be limited to every day…this is about the amount in two small cookies.
  • Infections cause one in six cancer cases worldwide. Many infections are preventable or treatable. Human papilloma virus can lead to cervical cancer and is preventable through vaccine. Hepatitis affects the liver, leading to inflammation and scarring, which can cause cancer. Hepatitis treatments are available. Helicobacter pylori bacteria can lead to gastric cancer, but the infection can be treated with an antibiotic cocktail.

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