The Best Kind Of Probiotic To Help Support Your Immune System, According To Functional MDs

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.
Medical review by Heather Moday, M.D.
Allergist & Immunologist
Heather Moday, M.D. is the founder of the Moday Center for Functional and Integrative Medicine in Philadelphia, where she practices both traditional medicine and integrative medicine.
Variety of Supplements

Of course, staying healthy is always a priority. But during an ongoing pandemic, keeping your immune system in tiptop shape is likely at the top of your agenda. There are a number of ways to help support your immune system, like getting ample vitamin D, prioritizing quality sleep, and eating nutritious foods. Another thing that may help: adding a probiotic supplement to your daily regimen—that is, if you go for the right strains.*

To get a better understanding of the connection between probiotics and immunity, plus the most effective strains, functional medicine experts and gastrointestinal specialists share their insight.

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 live microorganisms that have positive health benefits on the gut microbiome when consumed. "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 specific needs with your doctor. However, there are two that are 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.

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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