As physicians steer patients away from drugs that can do more harm than good, like antibiotics, probiotics have attracted much attention as a safer way to treat allergies.
For example, giving patients a drink containing a proprietary strain of Lactobacillus casei was shown to boost the immune systems of patients, according to a 2013 PLOS One study we featured in a previous blog post.
Nevertheless, up to 30 percent of all American adults and 40 percent of children suffer from nasal allergies, leading to more than 13 million visits to the doctor, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
These numbers could explain why allergies are considered the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in America with an estimated annual price tag of more than $18 billion in healthcare costs, according to the CDC.
The latest study giving probiotics a four-star review was featured in the International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology. It took a look at 23 studies and all but six demonstrated some improvements in at least one aspect of a patient’s health after starting a probiotic regimen.
“When you look at all the studies combined, there was a statistically significant improvement in both the rhinitis-specific quality of life of those patients and in their nasal specific quality of life,” said lead author Dr. Justin Turner, an associate professor of otolaryngology at Vanderbilt University.
Here’s where the results get tricky. The studies that the researchers examined featured probiotics with very different mixes of bacteria and durations of treatments. Some probiotic bacteria were found in foods like yogurt or in supplements like EndoMune Advanced Probiotic.
Is it seasonal allergies or a cold?
Another potential complicating factor, based on a recent survey conducted by Doctor on Demand and Harris Interactive, is not knowing whether the symptoms experienced are derived from allergies or the common cold.
Some symptoms, such as a runny or stuffy nose and sneezing, are shared by colds and allergies. However, more than half of the Americans polled in the Doctor on Demand survey attributed some symptoms (itchy ears and watery and itchy eyes) to colds.
The obvious difference between colds and allergies is the duration. Allergies can go on for months while colds have an expiration date of up to 14 days.
No matter which sets of symptoms you’re experiencing, probiotics can help with allergies and colds by strengthening your immune system to prevent bad bugs and allergens from slowing you down.