COVID-19: Happy Gut, Happy Immune System
I hope you enjoyed the sunshine over the weekend and are staying healthy. We all know that maintaining a strong immune system is important during COVID but did you know your gut is a vital component of that system? What you eat directly can influence immunity and your health.
What is the relationship between the gut and the immune system?
More than 70% of your immune cells reside in your gut, and there is a direct relationship between them. The fine details are still not fully understood, but there seems to be a link between the makeup of the microbiome (microorganisms, like bacteria and fungi living in your gut) and inflammation, which is one of the hallmarks of the immune response. Gut bacteria produce many beneficial chemicals and also activate vitamin A in food (vitamin A helps to regulate the immune system). A healthy gut microbiome also helps to prevent potentially dangerous immune overreactions.
A diverse microbiome is healthy, reflects a broad diet, and, in turn, a healthy immune system. It's no surprise then that the food you eat has a huge impact on the range of microorganisms in your gut. Microbiome diversity decreases as you age; this may help to explain why some older people have weaker immune responses. Antibiotics also change your microbiome.
Let's clarify some terminology that you may see when you research gut health:
Prebiotics are foods that act as a “fertilizer” for the good bacteria in your gut. Think of fiber—bananas, asparagus, leeks, garlic, onions—which can induce the growth of beneficial microorganisms.
Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms (bacteria and fungi) that are good for your gut, they add to the population of healthy microbes and can improve your digestive and immune systems. Taking supplements as well as eating fermented foods are thought to balance the beneficial bacteria in your gut.
So how do you eat your way to a healthy microbiome and healthy immune system?
Keep it simple. Eat mainly a plant-based diet high in fiber and avoid processed, sugary foods.
- Fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains (Prebiotic foods).
- Healthy fats like high-quality extra virgin olive oil; and lean meat or fish.
- Foods that contain live microbes include yogurt, cheese, tempeh, and drinks like kefir, kombucha, or fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut (Probiotic foods).
- Alcohol, salt, sweets, sugary drinks, and artificial sweeteners or other additives.
I know that in times of stress, we tend to reach for foods that make us feel good (temporarily) like candy and junk food. Stay strong and hold on; things will get better.
Wash your hands, wear your face mask, and eat consciously and with purpose.