The Best Kind Of Probiotic To Help Support Your Immune System, According To Functional MDs
Immunity has always been a buzzword of sorts in the health world. But as immune health has become increasingly important in recent years, strategies for supporting it have multiplied.
Mainstay strategies for supporting your immune system (think getting ample vitamin D, prioritizing quality sleep, and eating nutritious foods) remain valuable. But more and more people are turning to probiotic supplement, using carefully chosen strains to help support immune health.*
To get a better understanding of the connection between probiotics and immunity, plus the most effective strains, we asked functional medicine experts and gastrointestinal specialists to weigh in.
How do probiotics help the immune system?
While we may not think of the immune system as living in the belly, 70 to 80% of our immune system is located in the gut, integrative gastroenterologist Marvin Singh, M.D., explains. So "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.
That's where probiotics come in. Probiotics are live microorganisms that have positive health benefits on the gut microbiome when consumed.
But not all probiotics are created equal. Some strains support the immune system more effectively than others , so be sure to look at the label before purchasing.
Which probiotic strains are the best for immunity?
Different probiotics have different uses, so be sure to discuss specific needs with your doctor. However, there are two probiotic strains that tend to pop up a lot: "Many good broad-spectrum probiotics have Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains," Singh says. Here are some more specific probiotic species to consider.
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.
The Bifidobacteria (Bifidus) bacterium is most common 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.
"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. And while probiotics may not be the first supplement to come to mind when thinking of immunity, taking gut-specific probiotics can be valuable to your health.*
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.