A randomized trial of probiotic supplementation in nurses to reduce stress and viral illness.

Scientific reports. 2022;12(1):14742

Plain language summary

Dynamic communication occurs between the gut microbiota and the central nervous system along multiple physiological pathways. Stress increases glucocorticoid production and activation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis, affecting immunological function and neuronal changes. The aim of this study was to investigate whether supplementation with the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 could reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety and improve psychological wellbeing in nurses working during the COVID19 pandemic. This study was a large double-blind, placebo-controlled randomised trial of probiotic supplementation with two parallel arms and a ratio of allocation to probiotic or placebo of 1:1. Results showed that following the intervention, stress, anxiety, and psychological wellbeing were not significantly different between nurses supplemented with the probiotic and those who received the placebo. Furthermore, the average number of days per week that nurses reported symptoms of cold or flu-like illness did not significantly differ between the probiotic and placebo supplemented groups. Authors conclude that there weren’t significant differences in outcomes between the probiotic and placebo groups.


Animal studies demonstrate how the gut microbiota influence psychological health and immunity to viral infections through their actions along multiple dynamic pathways in the body. Considerable interest exists in probiotics to reduce stress and illness symptoms through beneficial effects in the gut, but translating pre-clinical evidence from animal models into humans remains challenging. We conducted a large trial in nurses working during the 2020 COVID19 pandemic year to establish whether daily ingestion of the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 reduced perceived stress and the number of days participants reported symptoms of a viral illness. Our results showed no significant difference in perceived stress or the average number of illness days between probiotic supplemented nurses and the placebo group. Stress and viral illness symptoms reduced during the study for all participants, a trajectory likely influenced by societal-level factors. The powerful effect of a well-managed public health response to the COVID19 pandemic and the elimination of COVID19 from the community in 2020 may have altered the trajectory of stress levels and reduced circulating viral infections making it difficult to detect any effect of probiotic supplementation. Our study highlights the challenge in controlling environmental factors in human trials.

Lifestyle medicine

Fundamental Clinical Imbalances : Neurological ; Digestive, absorptive and microbiological
Patient Centred Factors : Triggers/Probiotics supplementation
Environmental Inputs : Microorganisms ; Mind and spirit
Personal Lifestyle Factors : Stress and resilience ; Psychological
Functional Laboratory Testing : Not applicable
Bioactive Substances : Probiotics

Methodological quality

Jadad score : 5
Allocation concealment : Yes