Probiotics for your lungs? Good gut health linked to fewer respiratory problems in overweight people

BETHESDA, Md. — The human microbiome is a popular topic these days. More and more studies show keeping a healthy balance of good bacteria in the gut is vitally important for the entire body. Now, researchers in London add consuming probiotics is not only a good idea for your gut, they may help you breathe better as well.

Dr. Benjamin Mullish from Imperial College London says consuming probiotics daily is especially beneficial for overweight, obese, and older individuals. These patients experienced fewer respiratory problems while taking probiotics regularly over a six-month study.

“This is not necessarily the most intuitive idea, that putting bacteria into your gut might reduce your risk of respiratory infection,” says Mullish, a clinical lecturer in the Division of Digestive Diseases, in a media release. “But it’s further evidence that the gut microbiome has a complex relationship with our various organ systems. It doesn’t just affect how our gut works or how our liver works, it affects aspects of how our whole body works.”

Is your gut communicating with your lungs?

Researchers examined the daily health logs of 220 patients in a double-blind placebo-controlled study focusing on probiotics and weight loss. Study authors looked for any instances of coughing, sore throat, or wheezing — which may reveal an upper respiratory infection.

Results show participants taking probiotics during the experiment had a 27-percent lower rate of developing breathing problems in comparison to those taking a placebo. Participants 45 years and older experienced the largest benefit of taking probiotics, as well as those who were obese.

Study authors note people battling obesity are at the highest risk for developing respiratory infections. Until now, studies have only shown that probiotics provide a boost to respiratory health for children and healthy adults.

“These findings add to growing interest in the gut-lung axis — how the gut and the lungs communicate with each other,” Dr. Mullish says. “It’s not just the gut sending out signals that affect how the lungs work. It works in both directions. It adds to the story that changes in the gut microbiome can affect large aspects of our health.”

Researchers are presenting their findings at Digestive Disease Week® (DDW) 2021.