12 Science-Backed Ways Probiotics Benefit The Immune System

Several probiotic strands.

It's my opinion that most would benefit from daily probiotic supplementation, especially during times when the immune system is under extra stress.

- Dr. Ashley Mayer, Founder and CEO of Dr. Green Life™

Probiotics are supplemental live bacteria that are often recommended for health promotion, immune modulation, metabolic support, neuroimmune benefits, nutritional contribution, and more. Ongoing research is continually finding more ways that probiotics benefit our health (1). 


This article highlights twelve of the complex benefits of probiotics for the immune system. It's my opinion that most would benefit from daily probiotic supplementation, especially during times when the immune system is under extra stress. 

1. Stimulating Antibody Production

Specific strains of probiotics can increase the production of antibodies, including IgA, which is vital for mucosal immunity and protecting the intestinal barrier (2). Probiotics may also improve the secretory IgA content of breastmilk (3). 

2. Promoting T Regulatory Cells

Probiotics contribute to the development of T regulatory cells (4), which are essential for maintaining the balance between TH1 and TH2 cells. T regulatory cells and TH1-TH2 balance are important for immune tolerance and preventing autoimmune reactions (5).

3. Enhancing Intestinal Barrier Function

Probiotics strengthen the intestinal barrier. The intestinal barrier is important for preventing both food antigens and harmful pathogens from entering the bloodstream (6).

4. Modulating Inflammatory Responses

Probiotics help balance pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory responses and support a shift towards a more anti-inflammatory biochemical profile (7,8). A healthy inflammatory balance is important for a robust immune response that is able to be quenched quickly after danger is past.

5. Competing With Pathogens

By competing for nutrients and binding sites on the gut wall, probiotics can inhibit the growth of harmful pathogens by crowding them out (1). 

6. Enhancing Vaccine Efficacy

Some research suggests that probiotics can improve the body's response to vaccines, potentially increasing their efficacy (9).

7. Increasing Cytokine Production

Probiotics can influence the secretion of helpful cytokines (10). Cytokines are signaling proteins that are important for immunity, inflammation, and white blood cell production. 

8. Direct Interaction With Immune Cells

Probiotics interact with various immune cells, including dendritic cells, macrophages, and lymphocytes, to encourage a balanced immune response (1).

9. Regulating GALT Function

GALT is an important immune organ in the digestive tract — it plays a role in initiating immune responses against intestinal pathogens, maintaining a healthy microbiome, and preventing inappropriate immune responses that could lead to allergies and autoimmunity. There is some evidence that probiotics help with healthy GALT function (11,12). 

10. Influencing Gut Microbiota Composition

Probiotics have many short term effects, but when given longer term they can alter the composition of the gut microbiome, promoting the growth of beneficial microbes and inhibiting harmful ones, which in turn supports immune health. This is especially important after a disruption via infection or medication. For best results in improving gut microbiota composition, diet and lifestyle changes — including consuming prebiotic foods, getting exercise, and spending time outdoors — are also important (13). 

11. Producing Antimicrobial Substances

In addition to strengthening barrier function and outcompeting pathogenic bacteria, probiotics help mucosal immunity in the digestive tract by producing antimicrobial substances called bacteriocins to further discourage the growth of harmful bacteria (14). 

12. Enhancing Phagocytosis

Phagocytosis is the process by which the body clears away debris on a cellular level. Certain probiotics have been shown to increase the phagocytic activity of macrophages, helping to clear pathogens more effectively (15).

Summary

This list highlights some of the multifaceted roles of probiotics in supporting and enhancing the immune system. Luckily, you don’t have to remember all the ways that probiotics benefit the immune system to reap their immune enhancing rewards! 


Looking to add probiotics into your daily routine? Shop our collection:  Probiotics – Dr. Green Life  

References:

  1. Mazziotta C, Tognon M, Martini F, Torreggiani E, Rotondo JC. Probiotics Mechanism of Action on Immune Cells and Beneficial Effects on Human Health. Cells. 2023 Jan 2;12(1):184. doi: 10.3390/cells12010184. PMID: 36611977; PMCID: PMC9818925.

  2. Vitini, E., Alvarez, S., Medina, M., Medici, M., De Budeguer, M. V., & Perdigon, G. (2000). Gut mucosal immunostimulation by lactic acid bacteria. Biocell: official journal of the Sociedades Latinoamericanas de Microscopia Electronica... et. al, 24(3), 223-232.

  3. Taheri A, Raeisi T, Darand M, Jafari A, Janmohammadi P, Razi B, Mofidi Nejad M, Lafzi Ghazi M, Garousi N, Alizadeh S. Effects of Pre/Probiotic Supplementation on Breast Milk Levels of TGF-b1, TGF-b2, and IgA: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized-Controlled Trial. Breastfeed Med. 2022 Jan;17(1):22-32. doi: 10.1089/bfm.2021.0204. Epub 2021 Oct 29. PMID: 34714123.

  4. Livingston M, Loach D, Wilson M, Tannock GW, Baird M. Gut commensal Lactobacillus reuteri 100-23 stimulates an immunoregulatory response. Immunol Cell Biol. 2010 Jan;88(1):99-102. doi: 10.1038/icb.2009.71. Epub 2009 Sep 29. PMID: 19786979.

  5. Turner JA, Stephen-Victor E, Wang S, Rivas MN, Abdel-Gadir A, Harb H, Cui Y, Fanny M, Charbonnier LM, Fong JJH, Benamar M, Wang L, Burton OT, Bansal K, Bry L, Zhu C, Li QZ, Clement RL, Oettgen HC, Crestani E, Rachid R, Sage PT, Chatila TA. Regulatory T Cell-Derived TGF-β1 Controls Multiple Checkpoints Governing Allergy and Autoimmunity. Immunity. 2020 Dec 15;53(6):1202-1214.e6. doi: 10.1016/j.immuni.2020.10.002. Epub 2020 Oct 20. Erratum in: Immunity. 2020 Dec 15;53(6):1331-1332. PMID: 33086036; PMCID: PMC7744401.

  6. Serek P, Oleksy-Wawrzyniak M. The Effect of Bacterial Infections, Probiotics and Zonulin on Intestinal Barrier Integrity. Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Oct 21;22(21):11359. doi: 10.3390/ijms222111359. PMID: 34768787; PMCID: PMC8583036.

  7. Roy S, Dhaneshwar S. Role of prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics in management of inflammatory bowel disease: Current perspectives. World J Gastroenterol. 2023 Apr 14;29(14):2078-2100. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v29.i14.2078. Erratum in: World J Gastroenterol. 2023 Sep 21;29(35):5178-5179. PMID: 37122604; PMCID: PMC10130969.

  8. Cristofori F, Dargenio VN, Dargenio C, Miniello VL, Barone M, Francavilla R. Anti-Inflammatory and Immunomodulatory Effects of Probiotics in Gut Inflammation: A Door to the Body. Front Immunol. 2021 Feb 26;12:578386. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2021.578386. PMID: 33717063; PMCID: PMC7953067.

  9. Zimmermann P, Curtis N. The influence of probiotics on vaccine responses - A systematic review. Vaccine. 2018 Jan 4;36(2):207-213. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2017.08.069. Epub 2017 Sep 18. PMID: 28923425.

  10. Azad MAK, Sarker M, Wan D. Immunomodulatory Effects of Probiotics on Cytokine Profiles. Biomed Res Int. 2018 Oct 23;2018:8063647. doi: 10.1155/2018/8063647. PMID: 30426014; PMCID: PMC6218795.

  11. Forchielli ML, Walker WA. The role of gut-associated lymphoid tissues and mucosal defence. Br J Nutr. 2005 Apr;93 Suppl 1:S41-8. doi: 10.1079/bjn20041356. PMID: 15877894.

  12. Feria MG, Taborda NA, Hernandez JC, Rugeles MT. Efecto de la terapia con probióticos/prebióticos sobre la reconstitución del tejido linfoide asociado a la mucosa gastrointestinal durante la infección por el virus de la inmunodeficiencia humana-1 [Effects of prebiotics and probiotics on gastrointestinal tract lymphoid tissue in hiv infected patients]. Rev Med Chil. 2017 Feb;145(2):219-229. Spanish. doi: 10.4067/S0034-98872017000200010. PMID: 28453589.

  13. Dahiya D, Nigam PS. Antibiotic-Therapy-Induced Gut Dysbiosis Affecting Gut Microbiota-Brain Axis and Cognition: Restoration by Intake of Probiotics and Synbiotics. Int J Mol Sci. 2023 Feb 4;24(4):3074. doi: 10.3390/ijms24043074. PMID: 36834485; PMCID: PMC9959899.

  14. Darbandi A, Asadi A, Mahdizade Ari M, Ohadi E, Talebi M, Halaj Zadeh M, Darb Emamie A, Ghanavati R, Kakanj M. Bacteriocins: Properties and potential use as antimicrobials. J Clin Lab Anal. 2022 Jan;36(1):e24093. doi: 10.1002/jcla.24093. Epub 2021 Dec 1. PMID: 34851542; PMCID: PMC8761470.

  15. Rocha-Ramírez, L. M., Pérez-Solano, R. A., Castañón-Alonso, S. L., Moreno Guerrero, S. S., Ramírez Pacheco, A., García Garibay, M., & Eslava, C. (2017). Probiotic Lactobacillus strains stimulate the inflammatory response and activate human macrophages. Journal of immunology research, 2017.

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