Which Probiotics Support Immunity? Functional MDs Explain

mbg Editorial Assistant By Abby Moore
mbg Editorial Assistant
Abby Moore is an Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
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While staying healthy is always a priority, during the pandemic many of us have become hyper-focused on keeping our immune systems in tiptop shape. While exercising regularly and eating vitamin-C-rich foods can be beneficial, adding a probiotic supplement to your daily regimen may also help—that is, if you go for the right strains.*

We spoke with functional medicine experts and gastrointestinal specialists to understand how probiotics and immunity are connected and which strains are most effective for supporting immunity.  

How do probiotics help immunity? 

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Four targeted strains, including Lactobacillus and Bfidobacterium, to support immune function.*

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Probiotics are good bacteria that populate the gut microbiome. "When you have an overgrowth of bad bacteria, or dysbiosis (an imbalance of good and bad bacteria), it can negatively affect your overall immune system," integrative physician Bindiya Gandhi, M.D., tells mindbodygreen.

This is because 70 to 80% of our immune system is located in the gut, integrative gastroenterologist Marvin Singh, M.D., explains.

But not all probiotics are created equal. Some strains are more effective than others in supporting the immune system, so be sure to look at the label before purchasing.

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Which probiotic strains are the best for immunity? 

There are a variety of probiotics that can be useful for different purposes, so be sure to discuss your specific needs with your doctor; however, there are two that are really key. "Many good broad-spectrum probiotics have Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains," Singh says.  

Lactobacillus acidophilus

L. acidophilus NCFM is a strain of Lactobacillus bacteria, which produce lactic acid and primarily live in the small intestine. 

One in-vitro study published in Immunology indicates that Lactobacillus may be effective at triggering the expression of viral defense genes, therefore stimulating the immune system.

"They're also protective against harmful bacteria, like E. coli," Gandhi says.

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Bifidobacterium lactis

The Bifidobacteria (Bifidus) bacterium predominantly exists in the colon or large intestine. They produce the short-chain fatty acid butyrate, which keeps colon cells functioning optimally, according to integrative internist Vincent Pedre, M.D.

"Some colon studies show these bacteria help support the immune system and a healthy gut," Gandhi adds.* 

For example, one small study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition had one group of elderly participants consume dietary Bifidobacteria (specifically HN019) for six weeks, while the other group served as a control. The researchers found that those who consumed the probiotic showed enhanced levels of natural immunity.

Bottom line.

"The gut and the immune system are completely intertwined," integrative medicine doctor Amy Shah, M.D., says. In other words, the gut-immune connection is real, which is why feeding your gut-specific probiotics can be valuable to your health.*

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