Probiotic Supplementation Has a Limited Effect on Circulating Immune and Inflammatory Markers in Healthy Adults: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials

J Acad Nutr Diet. 2020 Apr;120(4):548-564. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2019.08.018. Epub 2019 Oct 21.


Background: A main mechanism of action proposed for oral probiotic supplementation is immunomodulation, which is expected to impart health benefits in the host by influencing circulating immune and inflammatory factors. To date, the effectiveness of probiotic supplementation for immunomodulation in healthy adults without disease has not been evaluated in a systematic review.

Objective: The objective of this systematic review was to evaluate the effect of probiotic supplementation on circulating immune and inflammatory markers of healthy adults compared to placebo.

Methods: PubMed, SCOPUS, ISI Web of Science, ProQuest, and Cochrane databases were searched for English articles up to May 15, 2019. Additional papers were identified by checking references of relevant papers. Only randomized controlled trials studying the administration of probiotic supplements compared to placebo on immune and inflammatory markers in healthy adults (aged 18 to 65 years), without acute or chronic disease, and in generally good health were examined. Independent extraction of articles was conducted by two authors using predefined search terms and restrictions/filters. The methodologic quality of each study was appraised using the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Evidence Analysis Library Quality Rating Worksheet and the body of evidence was assessed using the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Grade Definitions and Conclusion Grading Table.

Results: Eighteen articles, including 819 subjects, met eligibility criteria and were included in the present systematic review. Five articles were rated neutral in quality and 13 were rated high in quality. Eight articles reported a significant effect on immune and/or inflammatory parameters including increases in natural killer cells, lymphocytes, and monocytes, and decreases in proinflammatory cytokine concentrations.

Conclusions: Based on the 18 articles extracted in this systemic review, probiotic supplementation was concluded to have a limited effect on immune and inflammatory markers in healthy adults. Overall, the evidence was heterogenous, precluding a meta-analysis, and difficult to aggregate and conclude on effect size.

Systematic review registration number: PROSPERO ref CRD42018110856.

Keywords: Healthy adult; Immunity; Inflammation; Probiotic supplement; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Female
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / blood*
  • Immunomodulation / physiology*
  • Inflammation Mediators / blood*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Probiotics / administration & dosage*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Young Adult


  • Immunologic Factors
  • Inflammation Mediators