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Proc Nutr Soc. 2014 May;73(2):309-17. doi: 10.1017/S0029665113003777. Epub 2013 Dec 3.

Ageing, immunity and influenza: a role for probiotics?

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Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences, University of Reading, Reading RG6 6AP, UK.


Influenza is a major cause of death in the over 65s. Increased susceptibility to infection and reduced response to vaccination are due to immunosenscence in combination with medical history and lifestyle factors. Age-related alterations in the composition of the gut microbiota have a direct impact on the immune system and it is proposed that modulation of the gut microbiota using pre- and probiotics could offer an opportunity to improve immune responses to infections and vaccination in older people. There is growing evidence that probiotics have immunomodulatory properties, which to some extent are strain-dependent, and are strongly influenced by ageing. Randomised controlled trials suggest that probiotics may reduce the incidence and/or severity of respiratory infections, although there is limited data on older people. A small number of studies have examined the potential adjuvant effects of selected probiotics for vaccination against influenza; however, the data is inconsistent, particularly in older people. This review describes the impact of age-related changes in the gut on the immune response to respiratory infections and evaluates whether restoration of gut microbial homoeostasis by probiotics offers an opportunity to modulate the outcome of respiratory infections and vaccination against influenza in older people. Although there is promising evidence for effects of probiotics on human health, there is a lack of consistent data, perhaps partly due to strain-specific differences and an influence of the age of the host. Further research is critical in evaluating the potential use of probiotics in respiratory infections and vaccination in the ageing population.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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