As we move into flu season, staying healthy and avoiding ‘germs’ is high priority.
And while the thought of staying home, watching Netflix and sipping hot soup under a ‘blankie’ seems appealing, dealing with soar throats, pounding heads and body aches does not.
However, did you know that it is possible to support your immune system over time, through your gut? This is good news!
But first, let’s take a brief look at what the immune system is and how it’s linked to your gut microbiome.
What is the immune system?
When a pathogen or disease-producing microbe has been detected in the body, the network of cells and organs that are our immune system launches its defense mechanisms in order to neutralise the invader and protect healthy cells from infection.
However, when infection does occur, the immune system not only steps up its defense, it also helps the body to recover by leaving behind a permanent memory of the pathogen. This process is called adaptive or acquired immunity1.
Overtime, this ongoing recollection and identification of pathogens provides greater protection and results in fewer infections1.
How is immunity linked to gut health?
Traditionally, when most people think of the immune system, their first thought is usually inflamed lymph nodes (remember mum feeling behind your ears), white blood cells or perhaps even the spleen. However, the spotlight has recently turned towards our gastrointestinal system, which we now know plays a role in immunity.
Despite being located deep within the body, our gastrointestinal tract is a potential entry site for pathogens wanting to wreak havoc3. Our large intestine or colon is host to the largest collection of microorganisms that live in and on us and is commonly termed the gut microbiome. Most of our gut bugs or bacteria are known for their ability to help us digest food, but they also play a vital role in the preparation and training of the immune system3.
Want to know what bacteria are living in your gut and what they’re doing to contribute to your immunity? Find out here.
Our resident bacteria, which is the bacteria who have made our bowel their home, can interact with potential pathogens and provide barrier immunity (protection of the gut lining) through a process called colonisation resistance4,5,6,7. This is where a competition for space and nutrients takes place and harmful bacteria are prevented from colonising or living in the gut.
Some of our resident bacteria can also produce substances called short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) such as butyrate, propionate and acetate8. These substances have been shown to help intestinal cells mount an immune defence against invading pathogens and prevent inflammation in the gut9. They can also boost systemic or whole-body immunity during an immune response by enhancing gut barrier function and recruiting immune cells to fight invading pathogens9,10.
Overall, SCFAs are thought to be highly beneficial for our immune system due to their ability to reduce inflammation and improve our immunity.
How does an imbalanced gut impact immunity?
Put simply, if an imbalance exists, it’s entirely possible that poor immunity could result. This is because not all gut bacteria are able to produce the valuable SCFAs that assist the body to ward off opportunistic pathogens.
We can help our bacteria to produce butyrate, propionate and acetate by consuming an assortment of adequate prebiotics8, which are foods that promote the growth of beneficial gut species. For instance, when we supply the microbiome with an array of prebiotics such as fibre, resistant starch and phytochemicals we support the beneficial bacteria to produce helpful substances that support good health and immunity.
Help your gut health and immunity with diet
The key here is adding more plants! And lots of different types. Like us, it seems variety is the spice of life for our microbes too.
Adopting a more plant-based diet that includes lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and wholegrains will contribute an array of prebiotics to the microbiome and ultimately strengthen immunity.
When sneezing, coughing and blocked noses seem to be everywhere, try these easy ways to ensure your gut is getting enough prebiotics this winter:
Get into wholegrains
- Start the day with a gut nourishing bowl of porridge topped with a mix of your favourite seeds and a shake or two of cinnamon.
- Add some barley to your ‘veggie’ soup and try a new type of bread to dunk into it such as seeded or rye bread.
- Try buckwheat, quinoa or brown rice with your favourite curry to mix up your grain choices.
Go for plenty of seasonal vegetables
- Add a few spears of asparagus to your favourite savoury-style breakfast.
- Roast beetroots, pumpkin, sweet potato and Brussels sprouts to create a warm wintery salad.
- Bulk up your Bolognese with mushrooms, carrots or cooked red lentils.
Love your legumes
- Choose refried beans instead of meat fillings when next enjoying a Mexican-style dish.
- Relish in some hearty baked beans on wholegrain toast.
- Snack on a bowl of freshly cooked edamame.
- Enjoy a selection of nuts and seeds with your afternoon ‘cuppa’.
- Go for seasonal fruit such as oranges or kiwi fruit for an added dose of vitamin C and a little extra immune boost.
- Add green banana flour to your smoothies to increase the resistant starch content.
The Microba Insight™ report provides a shopping list of foods that contain prebiotics to help take the guess work out of what to eat to support your gut.
Why not take the next step in your gut health journey and complete a Microba Insight™ test to help you better understand the balance of bacteria in your gut?
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