Winter is here, which means cold and flu season has arrived. Unfortunately, while this time of year is known for holiday cheer, social gatherings, and cold weather, it’s also a time when we’re susceptible to getting sick. The good news is that you can build a more robust immune system by caring for your gut health. Let’s dive in!
Your Immune System & The Gut
Our guts are dynamic systems filled with living organisms called microbes, known collectively as the microbiome. These microbes live symbiotically within us and work to keep us healthy. Our guts influence every aspect of our health, especially our immune systems. About 70-80% of our immune cells are found in our guts.
Our immune systems evolve alongside the microbiome, creating a relationship where they coexist and assist one another in maintaining homeostasis, or balance, within our bodies. Each system helps to shape the other. For example, the immune system helps to keep our internal environments ideal for our microbes. In contrast, the microbiome, in turn, helps to stimulate the creation of new immune cells and perfect our immune response. This coexistence is essential for the maintenance of a healthy body.
For this reason, when we nurture our guts by eating healthy plant-based diets and living active, toxin-free lives, our immune system is supported and can protect us from viruses and pathogens.
Ways to Support Your Immune System via your Gut Health
The goal of immune health is to balance the immune system, so it functions correctly. We call this “supporting our immune system,” helping it to fight infection when needed and to back off and lower its defenses when there’s no danger. Our immune systems are affected by everything we put into our bodies and surround ourselves with. Here are seven ways to support your gut health this cold, flu, and RSV season. Your immune system will benefit, too!
Get enough sleep
When we sleep, our bodies go into restorative mode. Since they’re not working to keep us moving, our bodies can focus on internal processes, including fighting off viruses and pathogens that could harm us. By getting 7-8 hours of sleep, our immune systems can focus on keeping us healthy.
Exercise is excellent for so many aspects of our health and supporting gut health and the immune system is one of them. By getting even just 20 minutes of physical exercise per day, several processes happen that can keep you healthy.
Exercise flushes bacteria out of the lungs and airways, reducing the chance of getting a cold, the flu, RSV, or other illnesses. Changes and rapidly circulates antibodies and white blood cells (WBC), immune system cells that fight disease. This allows immune cells to detect illnesses and react earlier.
Similar to when you have a fever, the brief rise in body temperature caused by exercise can prevent bacteria from growing. Stress can lead to illness and exercise slows down the release of stress hormones.
Time in nature can make a huge difference in your health! Let’s look at a study of 20,000 people published by the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter. That study found that people who spend two hours a week outside reported better health and psychological well-being than those who don’t. This is because exposure to sunlight and the phytoncides released by plants can help to diversify our gut microbiomes and support our immune systems.
Lower Exposure to Environmental Toxins
Our bodies can’t defend themselves against pathogens if they constantly fight off toxins from harmful cleaning, skincare, and other products. By making smarter choices on the type of products we buy and regular cleaning to avoid harmful bacteria found in dust, we can eliminate toxins harming our gut health and taking a huge burden off our immune systems.
Avoid Alcohol and Drug Use
Alcohol is inflammatory which means that our immune systems react to alcohol consumption to protect our bodies instead of focusing on protecting us from other health threats. Additionally, smoking marijuana and other agents can inflame your lungs, one of the many organs in the body with immune capabilities.
Anxiety can weaken our immune system in as little as 30 minutes. We all experience stress and anxiety, so prioritizing how we cope with it is essential. As mentioned, exercise can help with stress management and adequate sleep, meditation, and other forms of self-care.
Eat a Well-Balanced Plant-Based Diet
Saturated fat and refined sugars promote disease-causing and inflammatory gut microbes, which, in turn, can damage the gut & immune system. Eating various plants is one of, if not the best, ways to create and nourish the good bacteria in our guts. The magic number is 30+ plants per week to ensure optimal gut health and immunity. This practice will pack your diet with essential immune-supporting nutrients like vitamins A, B6, C, D, and E. As well as protein, fiber, prebiotics, probiotics, omega three fatty acids, iron, copper, selenium, zinc, folate, and more!
Take care of yourself (and your immune system!) this winter
This winter, take care of yourself and your gut, especially during the holidays. The holiday season involves large gatherings and indulgent foods, both factors that can expose and make you more susceptible to getting sick. By continuing to practice self-care by practicing the tips above, you can feel your best throughout the holidays. Let’s start the new year strong!
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