By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: June 30th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Once upon a time, people ate yogurt primarily because it tasted good. Today, we expect this creamy treat to do everything from help us lose weight to regulate our digestion. Now scientists have found yet another use for the wonder goo: as a vehicle for vaccinations.

Researchers at Northwestern University recently created an oral anthrax vaccine using probiotics, which are healthy bacteria found in products such as yogurt, cheese, milk and miso. The vaccine was fed to mice, which were then exposed to anthrax bacteria. About eighty percent of the mice survived, about the same as mice given an anthrax vaccine injection.

The benefits of an oral vaccine are obvious to anyone who has ever held a screaming toddler during a trip to the doctor. But beyond the ouch factor, researchers also say the oral vaccine may be more effective than an injection because it uses the full power of the primary immune force, which is located in the small intestine. The researchers hope to someday develop probiotic vaccines for breast cancer and a variety of infectious diseases.

Researchers are also studying whether probiotics taken as food or supplements can help treat or prevent illness. There is encouraging evidence that probiotics may help treat diarrhea, urinary tract infections and irritable bowel syndrome, and even prevent eczema in children.

And no matter how you feel about yogurt, most people would agree: It’s a lot more pleasurable than a shot in the arm.