At this time of year, it is no surprise that many of us, re-entering society post lockdown or amid new restrictions, are thinking about how we can best support our immune system.
A recent study commissioned by global bioscience company Chr. Hansen showed that many people are actively looking for ways to do this through food.
While some might jump straight to medication and supplements, there are some extremely effective ways we to ensure optimal immune function with everyday habits and dietary choices.
Registered nutritionist Steph Geddes shares her top five tips for reducing risk and keeping well this winter.
With 70-80% of our immune cells residing in our gut, it makes sense that foods supportive of gut health are also helpful for immunity.
Probiotics are particularly helpful as they can communicate with the immune cells in the intestine and have a direct effect on creating an optimal environment for gut and immune function.
While diversity in probiotics is helpful, it is also important to look for probiotic strains that are clinically demonstrated to provide immune benefit.
For example, clinical studies have shown that BB-12 increases the body’s resistance to common respiratory infections as well as reduces the incidence of acute respiratory tract infections.
Similarly, many clinical studies have demonstrated the impact of probiotic strain LGG on reducing the incidence and duration of flu-like sickness.
Further supporting the gut with everyday eating habits will also be greatly beneficial for immunity and opting for a wide range of fibre rich foods is best.
Fibre is what feeds the bacteria in the gut, so aim to pack out your diet with a mix of fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds. It also happens that these foods are some of our best sources of immune-supporting nutrients such as vitamin C, zinc and vitamin D, so it’s a win-win.
If a person increases their fibre content they can be left with sluggish bowel movements and unpleasant digestive symptoms. Therefore drinking two litres of water a day is important help to soften and bulk stools, which will help to keep gut and immune function optimal.
Studies are showing that exercise can stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, which can also support the immune system.
While more research needs to be done in this area to determine the best type, intensity and duration of exercise, it is clear that consistency of exercise is important as any changes in the composition of bacteria that occur from exercise are lost once the exercise is ceased.
Stress can suppress our immune system and there is a lot of research looking into how the relationship between the gut and the brain may play a part in this. With the gut and brain being able to communicate directly (also referred to as the gut-brain axis), studies are indicating the immune system is one of these communication pathways.
Even though more research needs to be done in humans, employing stress management tools will go a long way to improving not just your gut and immune health but also overall health.