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One Surprising Effect of Taking Probiotics, Says New Study

This shows how much your gut is connected to…well, everything.
FACT CHECKED BY Cheyenne Buckingham

Want healthier lungs? Then consider boosting your gut health with probiotics, according to a recent study presented at the Digestive Disease Week conference.

Researchers looked at detailed food and supplement diaries of 220 people who had participated in an earlier study on probiotics and weight loss—research that itself has some intriguing results—and assessed whether probiotic use had an effect on the prevalence of upper respiratory infection. Turns out, their suspicions were correct.

Those in the earlier research who were in the probiotics group rather than the placebo group had a 27% lower overall incidence of respiratory problems. The effect was especially pronounced among participants aged 45 and older, as well as those with obesity.

This is a big deal since those populations of people tend to struggle more with respiratory conditions. For example, a study in Expert Review of Respiratory Medicine found obesity can cause substantial changes to the mechanism of the lungs and chest wall, which may lead to asthma-like symptoms. Older adults, too, tend to be subject to these issues more than younger counterparts—one study noted that pulmonary disease prevalence increases with age, and contributes to poor quality of life and early mortality.

Keep in mind as well that we're still deep in the midst of COVID-19, which is a respiratory virus. Being able to improve lung health right now is crucial for potentially preventing severe symptoms, as well as lingering issues if you contracted the infectious disease.

Plus, better gut health with probiotics comes with a breadth of other benefits, says dietitian Mary Purdy, RDN, author of The Microbiome Reset Diet. Research links gut health not just to improved digestion—although that's true—but also to deeper sleep, a greater sense of well-being, sharper cognitive function, sustained energy levels, lower rates of cardiovascular disease, and reduced risk of obesity.

"What's happening in our guts based on what we eat influences nearly everything in the body," said Purdy. "Think of your gut bacteria and its environment, called the microbiome, as an ecosystem that you can support or diminish, depending on what you're eating."

Although probiotic supplements can help, some research supports turning to food sources first, as Purdy recommends. For example, a study published in Nature Medicine found significant changes to the gut's good bacteria with foods like fermented dairy, vegetables, nuts, eggs, and seafood.

According to that study's co-author, Sarah Berry, PhD, in the department of nutrition sciences at King's College London, study participants with more of the good microbes due to healthy eating tended to have lower body fat, less inflammation, lower blood pressure, and good blood sugar regulation.

With probiotics from food, you'll also be getting vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which also play a role in your overall health. So, if you're looking to breathe easier, and improve plenty of other aspects of health as well, reaching for probiotic-rich foods is a smart strategy.

For more, be sure to check out What Happens To Your Body When You Start Taking Probiotics.

Elizabeth Millard
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer specializing in health, fitness, and nutrition. Read more