The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of a probiotic supplement during 4 mo of winter training in men and women engaged in endurance-based physical activities on incidence of upper respiratory-tract infections (URTIs) and immune markers. Eighty-four highly active individuals were randomized to probiotic (n = 42) or placebo (n = 42) groups and, under double-blind procedures, received probiotic (PRO: Lactobacillus casei Shirota [LcS]) or placebo (PLA) daily for 16 wk. Resting blood and saliva samples were collected at baseline and after 8 and 16 wk. Weekly training and illness logs were kept. Fifty-eight subjects completed the study (n = 32 PRO, n = 26 PLA). The proportion of subjects on PLA who experienced 1 or more weeks with URTI symptoms was 36% higher than those on PRO (PLA 0.90, PRO 0.66; p = .021). The number of URTI episodes was significantly higher (p < .01) in the PLA group (2.1 ± 1.2) than in the PRO group (1.2 ± 1.0). Severity and duration of symptoms were not significantly different between treatments. Saliva IgA concentration was higher on PRO than PLA, significant treatment effect F(1, 54) = 5.1, p = .03; this difference was not evident at baseline but was significant after 8 and 16 wk of supplementation. Regular ingestion of LcS appears to be beneficial in reducing the frequency of URTI in an athletic cohort, which may be related to better maintenance of saliva IgA levels during a winter period of training and competition.
Keywords: exercise training, mucosal immunity, leukocytes, respiratory illness, gut microbiota