(NaturalNews) Right on time; flu season is once again upon us, and no doubt you're already getting bombarded with calls to get your "flu shot" so you can be "protected" from this year's strain of influenza.
Well, you can do that if you choose, or you can take a more proactive approach to warding off the bugs and viruses this year by employing probiotics to help defend you.
What are probiotics? Simply put, it is the good bacteria that resides in your gut and battles infection caused by viruses, yeast, fungi and parasites. And it, like bad bacteria, is killed off with antibiotics, often leaving you more vulnerable for the next bug that comes along.
The issue is this: Antibiotics are over-prescribed these days. One of the most recent studies, from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, found that doctors frequently misuse antibiotics when treating patients who have been hospitalized for respiratory tract infections. The study, published in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, found that doctors at a pair of Pennsylvania hospitals were using antibiotics to treat patients with viral infections, which don't respond to such medications.
By comparison, according to a separate study in China, children aged three to five years old that were treated with two types of probiotics had a 63 percent lower rate of fever, a 54 percent reduction in cough, and a 44 percent decline in runny nose. Also, antibiotic use was reduced by a whopping 80 percent in children on the probiotics who had symptoms for about half the time of those on a placebo - 3.4 days compared to 6.5 days with the latter group.
The results led authors to conclude that consuming probiotics on a daily basis significantly reduced the incidence and length of respiratory infection symptoms in young children.
Probiotics are found in supplements and food (and not just yogurt, although that's a good place to start).
Here are five ways probiotics can help protect you and yours this flu season:
-- Digestive health. We have more than 1,000 different types of bacteria that live in our digestive tracts. In fact, bacteria in our bodies outnumber human cells ten to one. Yet when we take an antibiotic, they kill the healthy intestinal flora that helps us digest, in addition to the sickness-causing bacteria. "As a result, doctors commonly prescribe taking probiotics to 'repopulate' the digestive tract with healthful bacteria," the Huffington Post reported. But probiotics can also help with other digestive issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome
-- Urinary tract health. According to research, probiotics - especially lactobacilli - have been successful in treating recurrent urinary tract infections (UTI) in women. "...[I]f you could replace the Lactobacillus in women with recurrent urinary tract infections, you might normalize the vagina and prevent infections," says researcher Dr. Thomas M. Hooton, a professor of clinical medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "So there is as push to develop non-antibiotic methods to prevent and treat infections."
-- Keep those allergies at bay. Hay fever? Cats? Dust? Mold? Research suggests that probiotics could help prevent or reduce the severity of allergies. A team of Finnish researchers at the University of Helsinki found that "exposing pregnant mothers and infants to probiotic bacteria could help stimulate the growth of the immune system and potentially play a role in preventing allergies," ABC News reported in 2008.
-- Improving women's health. Probiotics have found L. acidophilius may help reduce the incidence and severity of bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections, when taken as a vaginal suppository (rather than consumed in foods).
-- Improve your immune response. One of the main functions of healthful bacteria is to stimulate your immune response. "By eating probiotic-rich foods and maintaining good intestinal flora, a person can also help to maintain a healthy immune system," HuffPo reported, citing small-study research.