Microbiota Modulating Nutritional Approaches to Countering the Effects of Viral Respiratory Infections Including SARS-CoV-2 through Promoting Metabolic and Immune Fitness with Probiotics and Plant Bioactives

Microorganisms. 2020 Jun 18;8(6):921. doi: 10.3390/microorganisms8060921.


Viral respiratory infections (VRIs) can spread quickly and cause enormous morbidity and mortality worldwide. These events pose serious threats to public health due to time lags in developing vaccines to activate the acquired immune system. The high variability of people's symptomatic responses to viral infections, as illustrated in the current COVID-19 pandemic, indicates the potential to moderate the severity of morbidity from VRIs. Growing evidence supports roles for probiotic bacteria (PB) and prebiotic dietary fiber (DF) and other plant nutritional bioactives in modulating immune functions. While human studies help to understand the epidemiology and immunopathology of VRIs, the chaotic nature of viral transmissions makes it difficult to undertake mechanistic study where the pre-conditioning of the metabolic and immune system could be beneficial. However, recent experimental studies have significantly enhanced our understanding of how PB and DF, along with plant bioactives, can significantly modulate innate and acquired immunity responses to VRIs. Synbiotic combinations of PB and DF potentiate increased benefits primarily through augmenting the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) such as butyrate. These and specific plant polyphenolics help to regulate immune responses to both restrain VRIs and temper the neutrophil response that can lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). This review highlights the current understanding of the potential impact of targeted nutritional strategies in setting a balanced immune tone for viral clearance and reinforcing homeostasis. This knowledge may guide the development of public health tactics and the application of functional foods with PB and DF components as a nutritional approach to support countering VRI morbidity.

Keywords: COVID-19; dietary fiber; dysbiosis; functional foods; gut microbiota; innate immune response; probiotic; short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs); synbiotic.

Publication types

  • Review