Scientists have identified an unlikely new weapon against the flu. Bacteria found in the traditional Japanese food Suguki — a pickled turnip — helped prevent influenza infection in mice exposed to a flu virus, perhaps by boosting the immune system.
"Our results show that when a particular strain of Lactobacillus brevis is eaten by mice, it has protective effects against influenza virus infection," said lead researcher, Naoko Waki of Kagome Co. in Japan, who detailed the research findings in the scientific journal Letters in Applied Microbiology.
Food scientists aren't sure why the bacteria is so beneficial to health, but it is remarkably tolerant to stomach juices, which kill many bacteria, possibly to a protective layer of sugars called exopolysaccharides.
"We know that exopolysaccharides have immune boosting effects in other similar bacteria, so we wonder if the exopolysaccharides of [the bacteria] are responsible for the effects we see," said Waki.
The bacteria have been shown to increase the production of immune system molecules in the body — including flu-specific antibodies — and help the body eradicate virus-infected cells.
For the latest study, the effects were sufficient to prevent infection by swine flu and the scientists think it may also offer protection against other viral infections, including the deadly bird flu that recently emerged in China.
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