Probiotics are over-the-counter pills and drinks designed to strengthen the gut microbiome, the complex gut soup made up of trillions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi

They’ve been linked to everything from your risk of developing type 2 diabetes to depression, and now our gut bacteria appear to be able to fight off Covid-19 too.

According to a new study, taking a capsule of probiotics, designed to increase the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut, may speed up recovery from coronavirus.

Probiotics are over-the-counter pills and drinks that are said to boost the gut microbiome, the complex gut soup made up of trillions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

A growing body of evidence shows that the right mix of gut bacteria can boost the body’s immune defenses.

For the latest research, half of a group of 300 Covid patients aged 16 to 60 who tested positive on a PCR test but did not require hospital treatment received a probiotic capsule, while the other half received a placebo.

Probiotics are over-the-counter pills and drinks that are said to boost the gut microbiome, the complex gut soup made up of trillions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi

The results, published in the journal Gut Microbes, showed that 53 percent of the probiotics patients (78 out of 147 in that group) were free of Covid symptoms within a month, compared with 28 percent (41 out of 146) on placebo.

The supplement, Probio7 AB21, contains four live strains of bacteria – three of them types of lactobacilli.

Ten years ago, researchers in the Netherlands found that lactobacilli found in dairy products produce substances that communicate with nerve cells and can reduce chronic inflammation associated with many diseases.

Previous research has shown that long-Covid patients have low levels of Lactobacillus in their gut, potentially leading to inflammation throughout the body.

The new study, sponsored by Kaneka, the company that makes the supplement, found that those who took the bacterial capsule not only recovered faster, but also had lower viral loads — the amount of viruses found in their system circulated.

“This is encouraging and appears to be a high-quality, well-conducted study,” says Mary Hickson, professor of dietetics at Plymouth University.

Philip Calder, Professor of Nutritional Immunology at Southampton University, explains that probiotics can “modify” the gut microbiome. “By doing so, they could help the immune system function and reduce inflammation.” And Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, says a healthier diet and probiotic supplements are likely to boost microbiome health.

He runs ZOE, a Covid symptom tracker app used by millions. Data from the app showed that people who ate the healthiest diet were 10 percent less likely to report contracting Covid than those who ate the least healthy. They were also 40 percent less likely to have severe symptoms that required hospital treatment.

“The greater the diversity of bacteria in the microbiome, the more effective the immune system is,” says Professor Spector.

But can a daily supplement really beat Covid?

Professor Andrew Smith and Dr. Commenting on the new study, Paul Gill, microbial disease expert at University College London, warned in an online article: “The study excluded people over 60 and did not take into account whether volunteers were vaccinated or not.

“So we don’t know if probiotics will benefit those most at risk of severe Covid.

“And taking probiotics may be unsuitable for people with compromised immune systems due to the potentially increased risk of infection from consuming large amounts of live bacteria.”

appy days

Health apps with an official seal of approval. This week: Hey pharmacists, free on Google Play or the App Store.

The NHS approved Hey Pharmacist app allows patients to order repeat prescriptions from any pharmacy in England and have them delivered to their doorstep.

After downloading the app and making a prescription request, it will be reviewed by your GP and delivered within a few days. The app can also issue reminders to order another prescription when supplies run low.

How sugar could protect artificial joints from wear and tear

Sugar is used to ensure replacement joints last longer.

Researchers from Durham and York Universities are working on a plastic-based coating to replace cartilage in artificial joints and have added tiny rings of sugar to it so that the protective material sticks to the joint.

The coating also attracts water from the surrounding tissue to the surface, mimicking the lubricating function of real cartilage.

The scientists write in the journal Chem that this approach could help artificial joints last longer because it ‘reduces the effects of wear and tear’.

New test to detect diabetes risk in pregnancy

A saliva test for a newly discovered hormone — visfatin — could be a new way to diagnose diabetes in pregnancy, according to a study in the Archives of Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Researchers found that levels of the hormone were 50 percent higher in women with gestational diabetes, which occurs during pregnancy and usually goes away after a woman gives birth. Visfatin is believed to cause hypoglycemia – low sugar levels – by blocking the release of glucose from liver cells.

Researchers at Baskent University in Turkey say salivary levels of the hormone “were significantly higher in patients with gestational diabetes” and suggest it could be an alternative screening method for the condition that currently involves a blood test.

Small improvements

Exercise is known to improve mood, but scientists at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg have found that it doesn’t have to be of high intensity to reduce anxiety. In one 12-week study, anxious patients were told to do an hour of cardio (such as lunges) and strength training (squats) three times a week. More than 10 percent were able to stop taking their antidepressants during the study, reports the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Silver gel that accelerates the healing of severe burns

A new gel made from silver particles could revolutionize the treatment of severe burns in children.

The particles in the water-based gel are released into wounds in response to changes in acidity that occur during infection.

Although silver has antimicrobial effects, it can also be toxic in large amounts — especially in children.

The idea is that the gel tested on mice releases only the amount needed according to changes in acidity.

It can also speed up the healing process while preventing infection, according to a report in the journal Acta Biomaterialia.

According to Scientific Reports magazine, Botox injections can reduce the risk of anxiety. Data from people who had vaccinations for migraines, neck pain, leg cramps and cosmetic reasons showed they were 22 to 72 percent less likely to report anxiety than people using other treatments for the same conditions. Botox can affect the central nervous system, which is involved in mood.

Body fat isn’t just bad — it helps fight infection

Our fat stores may help fight infection, researchers at the University of East Anglia suggest.

In a study published in Nature Communications, they found that in the presence of the food poisoning beetle, salmonella, stem cells in the body’s bone marrow stimulated fatty acids – derived from the digestion of fatty foods – to leak from our stores into the blood.

The immune system then used these high-energy fatty acids as fuel to make infection-fighting white blood cells.

Learning more about this mechanism could lead to the development of new treatments.

Doctors as guinea pigs

Scientists who made medical advances by putting their bodies at risk. This week: Dr. Barry Marshall and a cure for stomach ulcers

Doctors used to think that stomach ulcers were caused by stress, spicy food, or too much acid, so they treated them with antacids and dietary changes. Then an Australian pathologist, Robin Warren, examining stomach biopsies, noticed that there was inflammation in areas with colonies of small, curved bacteria.

A doctor friend, Barry Marshall, joined him to examine another 100 gastric biopsies.

Based on their research, they suggested that the bacteria, which they would later identify as Helicobacter pylori, was the cause of stomach ulcers.

But after failed attempts to prove this in piglets in 1984, Marshall chose to drink a broth containing the bacteria and developed symptoms of an ulcer.

Tests confirmed he had a severe intestinal infection, which he cured with antibiotics – much like we treat stomach ulcers today. Warren and Marshall later received the Nobel Prize for their work together.