When we’re think about immunity, we’re thinking about gut health. 70% of the immune system is located in the gut.
This bacteria in our gut microbiome have the ability to change every three to five days based on what we’re putting into our system. So, nurturing this delicate ecosystem is important in supporting our immune system.
So how can we support this delicate ecosystem?
Some of the foods we eat can drive inflammation or a rise in bad bacteria. These include all the tasty foods that are high in sugar and fat, processed foods, alcohol and caffeine.
We are not suggesting that you cut these foods from your diet, these are foods that we can all enjoy mindfully from time to time. Instead, here are some foods that we can add into our diet that are beneficial for immune health:
- Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring
These foods are high in essential fatty acids that our body cannot produce on its own
- Wholegrains such as brown rice, brown pasta, quinoa and gluten free grains (if you’re gluten free) which up your fibre intake.
Our gut loves fibre as it acts as a food source for the good bacteria and helps promote regular bowel movements.
- A rainbow of vegetables.
The more colours and varieties you can eat, the more phytonutrients they contain. These nutraceuticals are great for supporting overall health. Introducing more diversity into our diet is an easy way to keep our microbes happy.
Don’t forget to stay hydrated too, aim for 6-8 glasses of water per day. Why not carry a bottle of water with you to remind you to drink throughout the day?
It’s also important to think about what we’re eating and when
Most of us have a busy lifestyle where grabbing breakfast on the go seems like the only option and more often than not we reach for heavily processed, high sugar foods from the coffee shop or drive through on our commute, which cause our blood sugar levels to spike.
When this happens, insulin is released to lower the sugar levels back back down. As a result, you can often experience a lull in energy levels, which leads to grabbing another high energy or high sugar snack later on. This starts the process of insulin being released again.
However, our stress hormone, cortisol also mirrors this pattern. All eating naturally produces a stress state, but we don’t want to exacerbate this. Sometimes no matter how hard we try, we do have to take the grab and go option, but where possible, try to plan your meals to avoid this pattern.
When we’re thinking about lifestyle, it’s all about stress!
Stress is a key driver in decreased immune function. But how?
We have two nervous system states: the sympathetic and parasympathetic
- Sympathetic nervous system state:
This is the response to external stimulus. If we were to shout “there’s a lion behind you!”, this stress response would kick in as you prepared to run away from the danger.
- Parasympathetic nervous system state:
This is our rest and digest state. You are relaxed, or in a flow state.
Both of these are perfectly healthy responses. Unfortunately, we have the same sympathetic response when we look at an inbox full of work emails, or a lot of tasks to get done without enough time.
This has a knock on effect on our digestion, reproductive health and immune function.
Do you find that often when you take time to relax or go on holiday, you get sick?
The sympathetic nervous system response is linked to the TH1 immune response. This is the state we are in when we are fighting an infection, stress or burning the candle at both ends.
TH2 is our rest and digest immune system response.
Because of our busy “go go go” lifestyles we are pushing the TH1 response more, which is pro-inflammatory and depleting to our immune system over time.
When we take a moment to stop, go on holiday or take a break, we naturally shift into TH2 and because our inflammatory burden has to go somewhere, it goes into letting the infection take hold. We should have really gotten sick when we were stressed, but we have this natural inbuilt response to save us from that.
So how can we manage this stress to support our immune health?
Take a breath, it’s free. Breathing exercises are a great way to start reducing stress, especially when we’re busy. Try 3,4,5 breathing, where you inhale through your nose for 3 seconds, hold it for 4 seconds and exhale through your nose for 5 seconds.
Nasal breathing encourages the parasympathetic nervous response. Breathing through your mouth helps get adrenalin pumping so is ideal for getting ready for a public speaking event or a big meeting at work, but isn’t best suited for entering a relaxation mode.
Yoga is another great option. You don’t need to be super flexible. There are so many different styles to choose from, from focusing on simply improving your posture through to the more exertive ashtanga or vinyasa styles. Activities like this can help you control your breathing and take focus away from stressful situations to help relax you. There are a number of free apps and videos online for those wanting to give it a try.
Mindfulness is also a great tool for managing stress. Mindfulness as a term that has gained a lot of attention in the press over the last few years and essentially means paying attention to the task you’re doing and being in the moment.
When we’re thinking about how mindfulness can be used in supporting health, this can be achieved through journaling, adult colouring books, reading or anything that puts your body into that rest and digest mode. Activities where you don’t need to think about whether you should be doing it, you just enjoy it. If you’re just starting out, why not try apps such as Calm and Headspace that will help guide you through practicing meditation and mindfulness.
Where are supplements useful?
In an ideal world, we’d get all of the nutrients we need from our foods. Unfortunately, because of the quantities of certain nutraceuticals in foods (the active ingredients) sometimes don’t benefit us in the way we would like.
Ever heard that red wine is good for you? It’s because it contains resveratrol, which has been linked to anti inflammation and other positive effects on the body. However, in order to get the enough resveratrol, we’d need to drink around a gallon of wine a night, which isn’t beneficial for us in the long run!
We can also get our daily dose of vitamin D from the sun. However, in the UK we see far more inclement days than is ideal for getting our optimum dose.
This is where supplements play a role.
What supplements should I be thinking about for immune health?
Vitamin D is probably the supplement that everyone knows about for supporting immune health. When looking for a vitamin D supplement, try to look out for vitamin D3, a more efficacious form.
Both Probio7 Immune+ and Probio7 Professionals both contain vitamin D3 to help support your immune health.
We’ve mentioned it before, but 70% of our immune function is within our gut, so it’s vital to keep it happy and healthy in order to support immune health.
As we enter the winter months, we’re more likely to develop coughs and infections. If we’re prescribed antibiotics, these are great for killing off the nasty bacteria. However, they also kill off our friendly bacteria. So, it’s important to make sure we’re replenishing our gut.
Probiotics come in the form of fermented foods such as kimchi or sauerkraut. If these aren’t to your taste, try a supplement to ensure you’re getting a dose of friendly bacteria. Look out for one with added natural fibre, which acts as a food source for our friendly bacteria.
You can get this from foods such as citric foods, blueberries and peppers. If you’re taking it in supplement form, it’s important to take throughout the day, rather than a high strength in the morning (unless the supplement is specifically labelled as “time release”). This is because our body can only process so much vitamin C at a time.
This the most powerful antioxidant for the brain and entire nervous system. It is one of the best known antioxidants, contributing to keeping the immune system healthy and the building and repairing of tissue. The human body produces its own glutathione, but poor diet, pollution, toxins, stress, infections and more can deplete normal levels, leaving the body open to infection.
Beta glucans are soluble fibre and are naturally found in foods such as baker’s yeast, shiitake mushrooms, and cereal grains, like barley, oats, rye, and wheat. They help to support the innate immune system by priming it to be ready to react to a threat such as a cold or flu.
Probio7 Immune+ contains Wellmune®, a clinically studied yeast beta glucan clinically which helps strengthen your immune system.
So, just like everything, there’s no one magical pill or change that you can make that will support your immune system. However, there are small diet, lifestyle and supplement changes you can consider that when put together will make a big difference.
If you have any questions about how to support your immune health through your gut, or would like diet and lifestyle advice, why no book a free 1:1 consultation with our nutrition team?