Can a cup of yogurt cure your case of COVID-19? – The Jerusalem Post

Can a cup of probiotic yogurt help save the lives of people with COVID-19? Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev say that they have identified molecules in Kefir yogurt that are effective at treating various inflammatory conditions, including “cytokine storms” caused by COVID-19.Kefir is a fermented drink made by inoculating cow’s or goat’s milk with microorganism mixtures, such as yeast and bacteria. A cytokine storm is when the body’s immune system goes into overdrive and attacks itself – one of the leading causes of death in COVID-19 patients. The research was conducted by Ph.D. student Orit Malka and Prof. Raz Jelinek, vice president and dean for Research & Development at BGU. It was recently published in the peer-reviewed journal Microbiome.Jelinek told The Jerusalem Post that several years before the coronavirus pandemic, Malka noticed that yogurt had a therapeutic effect and began studying it in Jelinek’s lab. Together they identified molecules in the yogurt that had dramatic antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.“One of the main reasons people die of COVID is the cytokine storm,” Jelinek explained. “Cytokines are immune molecules that are designed to help the body fight invaders like viruses. But in certain circumstances – and scientists don’t know exactly why – the body goes into a sort of overdrive and secretes many cytokines, so many that it kills you. That is what happens during COVID.“We knew that we had found these molecules in yogurt with anti-inflammatory properties,” Jelinek continued. “So, when COVID started, we said, let’s see if these molecules can help against cytokine storms.”

Jelinek and Malka induced cytokine storms in mice. Then they watched what happened.The mice that had the storm and were not treated died. But the mice that were treated with the molecules they found in the yogurt had a complete recovery. The molecules not only eliminated the cytokine storm, but also restored balance to the immune system.“This was really remarkable,” Jelinek said. The scientists said that they also administered the molecules to the mice via their mouths – they were placed in water and entered the mice’s digestive systems just like a normal drink. During the pandemic, Jelinek and Malka had hoped that they could administer these molecules to patients who were in critical condition, but Jelinek said regulatory hurdles delayed the process, and they did not succeed. Now, their next step is to conduct clinical trials with other cytokine storms.“Cytokine storms don’t only happen with COVID,” Jelinek said. “This is a very bad condition with really very few treatments against it.”The researchers are at the tail end of forming a start-up company under the BGN Technologies umbrella for further development and commercialization of the technology. Jelinek said that the company should formally kick-off within the next few weeks and then they will raise funds to conduct clinical experiments. His hope is that trials will be able to begin within a few months.The path from the lab to the table is likely to be long, however – even though these molecules come from yogurt that people could eat every day. Jelinek said they will be considered a drug and therefore have to undergo the full scrutiny of any new medicine before receiving approval. As such, he said they are likely to also take the molecules another direction at the same time – as a food additive, probiotic or supplement, which would speed along the approval process.Jelinek noted that he and Malka did other experiments with the Kefir and that they were also able to show that the molecules have the potential to combat pathogenic bacteria. Specifically, they showed that the molecules were able to significantly reduce virulence of the causative agent of cholera. “This is the first demonstration that virulence of human pathogenic bacteria can be mitigated by molecules secreted in probiotic milk products, such as yogurt or kefir,” Jelinek said. “I don’t think there were any molecular mechanisms that people knew for sure would have a therapeutic effect. Now we know.”
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