Gut Health and the Immune System: 6 Tips for Fall and Winter
The cold weather months can leave us vulnerable to increased colds and flus. A strong immune system more readily fights off invaders, leaving us with few to no symptoms, but if we are run down by stress overload, poor diets, or lack of quality sleep, our chances of getting sick increase. Luckily, there are simple, daily steps you can take to boost your immunity, and help optimize your immune system’s ability to kick out viruses and infections.
Gut Health and Immune System Connection
Per CDC estimates, as many as 13 million instances of the flu occurred in the last year from October 2021 to June 2022. Fall is considered to be the start of flu season, and colds are common during this time of year as well. Most research points toward strengthening your immune system to make yourself less likely to get sick this season. One way to do this is by going through your gut.
Gut Health and the Immune System
Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria, many of which play a role in regulating your immune system. As part of your gut’s microbiome, beneficial bacteria (or probiotics) do this in part by keeping harmful bacteria in check, but they also produce substances that can help regulate your body’s immune response.
Small Changes, Significant Results
The impact of these bacteria is significant—research indicates that even a small shift in your microbiome’s bacterial composition can have a dramatic impact on your immune system. As such, supporting gut health appears to be integral to maintaining a strong immune system.
Reduction in Flu-Like Symptoms
One study in particular showed that among test subjects, only 4.5% of those who took a probiotic showed symptoms of upper respiratory tract infection with fever compared to 16.4% of those in the control group. This study and others demonstrate the potential that probiotics have for supporting immune function through improving gut health.
6 Tips for a Stronger Immune System This Fall
Of course, there are many ways to support a healthy immune system. Six of these methods include the following.
1. Eat organic fruits and vegetables.
Poor quality diets leave us nutrient depleted and are a common cause of weakened immune response. Fresh fruits and vegetables contain numerous phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals that are essential for good health. Dark leafy greens, citrus fruits, berries, tomatoes, papaya, broccoli, and red peppers, are among the many fruits and veggies loaded with Vitamin C, which is a major immunity-boosting superstar. Purchasing organic produce as much as possible reduces your exposure to pesticides, which are carcinogenic.
2. Kick your probiotic intake up a notch.
Up to 80 percent of our immune system resides in the gut. A healthy GI tract is key to robustly functioning immunity, and probiotics are essential to maintaining great intestinal health. Balanced intestinal flora contributes to better nutrient absorption, and help keep the intestinal lining strong, forming a barrier against pathogenic microbes and other harmful invaders. Probiotics help alleviate inflammation in the gut, which also supports immune function and take a high-quality probiotic capsule supplement each day.
3. Keep an eye on your stress levels.
Did you know that prolonged stress can lower the body’s pathogen-fighting white blood cell count? While some stress is normal, and can even motivate us in positive ways, too much stress, or stress that becomes chronic and negative, can wear us out; leaving us run down and vulnerable to illness and infections. Learning to mindfully manage stress is a cornerstone of a health-promoting lifestyle. Meditate, spend time with friends, pets, and loved ones, exercise, do yoga, and focus as much as you can on the things that bring you joy.
4. Commit to exercise you enjoy.
Getting moderate to vigorous exercise each day is one of the most important things we can do for our health. The key is to avoid overtraining, which can add to your body’s stress levels, and to exercise in ways you genuinely like. You don’t want exercise to be one more chore you dread doing. Yoga is an excellent full-body exercise, and it also promotes relaxation and a healthy stress response. Yoga helps lower stress hormones that negatively impact the immune system, and it stimulates the lymphatic system to give toxins the boot.
5. Prioritize sleep.
Getting sufficient sleep is vital to good health. Get seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep a night, so that your body can fully rest and recharge for the next day. Practice good sleep hygiene: take an hour (at least) to wind down before bed. You want your bedroom to be a comforting, restful retreat; keep devices, televisions, and computers in other parts of the house. Quality sleep, combined with a nutrient dense plant-based diet and skillful stress management, will supercharge your immune system; keeping you strong, healthy, and vibrant as the seasons change.
6. Add propolis to the mix.
Bee propolis consists of resin that plants secrete in order to ward off bacteria and viruses. Bees collect this substance and process it for use in building their hives, and it has been shown to have antiviral, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties. A supplement that includes bee propolis—particularly Brazilian green propolis—may help support your immune system, particularly when combined with other measures.
FAQs on Probiotics and the Immune System
How much of your immune system is in your gut?
About 70% to 80% of immune cells are in the gut.
Can I take probiotics when I’m sick?
It’s typically perfectly safe to take probiotics when you’re sick.
Do probiotics help with colds?
Probiotics have been shown to have a marginal effect on your body’s ability to ward off the common cold.
Do probiotics help your immune system?
Probiotics can change the composition of bacteria in your gut, which in turn could help support immune function.
Probiotic-Infused Propolis Supplements for Your Immune System
- CDC: 2021-2022 U.S. Flu Season: Preliminary In-Season Burden Estimates
- NIH: The role of gut microbiota in immune homeostasis and autoimmunity
- NIH: Prospective study of probiotic supplementation results in immune stimulation and improvement of upper respiratory infection rate
- PubMed: The Interplay between the Gut Microbiome and the Immune System in the Context of Infectious Diseases throughout Life and the Role of Nutrition in Optimizing Treatment Strategies
- NIH: The Effect of Probiotics on Prevention of Common Cold: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trial Studies