Many different pathogens invade the human body, and some of them can be quite difficult to eradicate. We can fight bacteria using antibiotics, destroy fungi with antifungal agents, and cure an infection by parasites using drugs like albendazole, ivermectin, and metronidazole. But what about viruses?
When we are confronted by a virus, all we can do is sit and wait for the body to create immunity against it. In the meantime, we can try to alleviate the symptoms, including headache, cough, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. A few exceptions do exist, and we have specific medications to counter the effects of the herpes virus and HIV. Still, they are not always as effective as antibiotics will be against microbes.
But, are probiotics useful in this situation? Are they fit for the task of improving our body defenses and the symptoms of a virus? Let us take a look at a common form of a virus that attacks the stomach and the gastrointestinal system and how probiotics can be useful in treating this type of infection.
What are the Symptoms of a stomach virus?
What happens when you have a stomach virus? When talking about a virus, the majority of us think of influenza or, more recently, coronavirus COVID-19. However, there are widespread viruses that affect the gastrointestinal tract. They are known as rotavirus, astrovirus, and norovirus. We also have hepatitis virus A, B, C, D, and E, which affect the human liver and causes many gastrointestinal symptoms in the process.
In the majority of cases, the symptoms of a stomach virus include the following:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach cramps
- Body aches
- Muscle weakness
In some cases, patients may also have a mild fever and other symptoms, and to alleviate them, we use medications to stop nausea and diarrhea, others meant to modulate the nervous system in the gastrointestinal tract, and still others to lower the fever.
Interestingly, we can also use probiotics to improve the symptoms, and sometimes they are meant to be used as a part of the medical therapy. For example, when patients have watery diarrhea, the increased bowel movements sweep away the normal flora. The intestines become susceptible to bacterial infections, which perpetuate diarrhea for a longer time.
Additionally, probiotics can be used to boost the immune system and improve the patient’s response against the virus. We will see all of this in more detail in the following sections.
How probiotics help with a stomach virus
Probiotics can help if you have a stomach virus in at least two different ways: They prevent and fix symptoms of diarrhea, and they boost your immune system.
Diarrhea is a common problem, not only in cases of a stomach virus. Many pathogenic bacteria cause severe cases of diarrhea, and it is a common problem after antibiotic therapy. Pathogenic bacteria create toxic substances that irritate the inner linings of the gastrointestinal tract or stimulate secretions by the wall of the intestines. Either way, the absorption of water by the large intestine becomes insufficient to make up for the excess liquid there is in the intestinal lumen. These patients typically complain about watery diarrhea and may have other consequences, including dehydration, malabsorption syndromes, and nutritional deficiencies.
What probiotics do in this regard is populating the large intestine with healthy bacteria, such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium, which protect the intestinal wall against toxic releases by pathogenic bacteria. These bacteria are contributing to the symptoms during a stomach virus infection because the virus caused diarrhea in the first place, and swept away the healthy microbiota we had, as mentioned above.
By populating the gut once again, probiotics help in many ways:
- They compete against pathogenic bacteria for space in the gut
- They release antimicrobial substances to destroy other strains
- They modulate the pH and improve the permeability of the intestinal wall
Boosting the immune system with probiotics
In addition to the competitiveness against pathogenic bacteria, probiotics will also enhance the immune system of the host. It turns out that we have a significant portion of the lymphatic system in the gastrointestinal tract. This vast portion of the lymphatic system, known as GALT, is responsible for creating defenses to protect the body against disease, and that includes viruses.
Probiotics are healthy bacteria with proteins that stimulate the lymphatic system associated with the gastrointestinal tract. By doing so, it modulates the immune system and activates the detection of similar proteins in pathogenic bacteria and viruses. Whenever the immune system comes into contact with similar structures, he will protect the body more effectively.
Thus, probiotics can be used as a preventative measure against stomach viruses and may even protect the body against other viruses outside the gastrointestinal tract, including the new strain of coronavirus. That’s why many clinical trials have found success in boosting the immune system in animals and humans through the application of probiotics.
In a nutshell, it is true that we don’t have so many bullets against viruses, but there’s much we can do to mitigate the symptoms and prevent the severity of the disease. Probiotics act by modulating diarrhea in a stomach virus by populating the large intestine with healthy microbiota that contributes to the permeability and body defenses. It is also an excellent preventative measure to boost the immune system and reduce the incidence and severity of several bacterial and viral diseases.
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