December 1, 2005

Daily Dose of Good Bacteria Cuts Sick Leave

Daily Dose of Good Bacteria Cuts Sick Leave

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Workers who took a daily dose of beneficial bacteria, also known as probiotics, were much less likely to call in sick than their colleagues given a placebo, a new study from Sweden shows.

Probiotics are contained in yogurt and other fermented foods. They've been shown to have a number of positive health effects, helping, for example, to prevent gastrointestinal ills and to boost immune system function.

Dr. Py Tubelius and colleagues from Tetra Pak Occupational Health and Safety AB conducted the current study to determine if one probiotic, Lactobacillus reuteri, might help prevent sick leave due to respiratory or gastrointestinal infections.

They randomly assigned 262 employees of the company to take a drink containing L. reuteri or a placebo drink every day for 80 days. A total of 181 workers completed the study.

Twenty-three of the 87 workers on placebo, or about 26%, took sick leave during the course of the study, compared to 10 of the workers taking the probiotic, or 11%. Among the subset of workers on the night shift, none of the 26 taking the probiotic called in sick, compared to 9 of their 27 colleagues, or 33%.

Shift workers are known to be more prone to develop stomach ailments, colds and other types of short-term illness leading to sick leave, Tubelius and his team note in the journal Environmental Health.

While the mechanism by which the probiotic might help prevent illnesses isn't clear, the researchers add, it's likely that it helped to strengthen immune function.

"Shift-workers are known to be at risk for having a weaker immuno-defence as compared to those working day-time shifts only," they note. "Consequently it can be argued that shift-workers would benefit relatively more by the immune stimulating effect of L. reuteri."

Further studies are needed to investigate this issue, they conclude.

SOURCE: Environmental Health

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