“There are different probiotics designed for different purposes,” says Dr. Gregor Reid, the Endowed Chair in Human Microbiome and Probiotics at the Lawson Health Research Institute and a professor at Western University. “All are designed to improve digestive health, but some strains also have an impact on other aspects of health.” Since immune response in the gut is linked to the body’s overall immune response, understanding the differences between the various probiotic strains can provide an effective balance for overall health.

Many Canadians are unaware that probiotics can help with upper respiratory tract infections, like the cold or flu. Taking the proper strain of probiotics during cold and flu season will not stop the virus completely. Instead, the right indication of probiotic helps lower the stress on your immune system.

In the 2016 research article titled Clinical and Economic Impact of Probiotics Consumption on Respiratory Tract Infections: Projections for Canada, Dr. Reid and his colleagues found evidence that taking probiotic supplements can decrease symptom duration. “If you take a probiotic, what we think happens is the immune response in the gut is enhanced,” says Dr. Reid. “This means that you would have less of a chance of getting sick. Or, if you do, a quicker recovery time.” This ultimately benefits our economy by reducing work absenteeism, boosting productivity, and reducing related health care costs. With cold and flu season approaching, probiotic preparation should start as early as late August.

To help consumers and health care professional better compare existing indications and strains of probiotics, the Alliance for Education on Probiotics created a Clinical Guide to Probiotics. The online guide is a reliable resource to determine effective probiotic options, linking the scientific evidence to each indication that has been prepared and reviewed by a panel of experts.

“The Probiotic Chart is a good starting point,” says Dr. Reid. “The chart is not limited to a single condition: it’s for vaginal health, colic in baby, and there are even probiotics for dental care.”