Immunity is at the forefront of our minds these days. And as we once again round that corner into the cold and flu season, it is time to ensure that your immune system has the support it needs to help protect against viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens that you may be exposed to. In addition to eating a varied and nourishing diet, getting plenty of rest, exercising regularly, and managing stress, maintaining a healthy microbiome is also an important step in supporting your immunity.
Understanding your microbiome
Your gut microbiome is a complex ecosystem that contains trillions of microorganisms, such as Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Enterococcus species of bacteria and Saccharomyces species of yeast. The diversity of microorganisms, or microbiota, in the microbiome develops rapidly throughout childhood becoming more complex as people approach their teens.
A healthy, balanced microbiota in adults is believed to house more than 1,000 different species of microorganisms, made up mostly by lactobacilli and bifidobacteria strains. This is significant because the communities of microbiota found in your gut have a big impact on your overall health and well-being. They are involved in digestion, nutrient metabolism, mood, nervous system activity, and immune function.[2,3] An imbalance in gut microbiota puts the body at a greater risk of infection, diarrhea, allergies, and some types of chronic intestinal disorders.[1,2]
How does your microbiome influence immune function?
A surprisingly large portion of your immune system is found in your gut. The microbiota living there contributes to your health and helps protect against infection in a variety of ways.
Gut microbiota interacts with immune system cells found within the epithelia of the intestinal tract. Their metabolites stimulate the production and activity of various immune system cells, such as signalling molecules, antibodies, and specialized white blood cells. The microbiota also works to balance pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cells in the gut, helping to manage inflammation.
Additionally, gut microbiota help fortify the intestinal barrier by maintaining a dense layer of mucous on the gut wall. This helps prevent infectious microorganisms from penetrating through the wall, while also making it less susceptible to inflammation.[4,5]
A healthy microbiota also prevents invasive microorganisms from colonizing the gut simply by occupying space on the gut wall and competing with them for nutrients. Some strains bacteria in the microbiota produce organic acids called bacteriocins that make the gut ecosystem unlivable for pathogens, such as Helicobacter pylori.
The gut microbiota is also responsible for producing vitamins, synthesizing amino acids, metabolizing non-digestible carbohydrates, and releasing other metabolites needed for proper immune function.
The benefit of probiotics
When your well-balanced microbiota is disrupted by illness, antibiotic use, overgrowth of Candida albicans, or stress, it leaves you more susceptible to infection. Even natural changes to your system during pregnancy or aging can throw your microbiome off balance.
One of the best ways to manage these changes and re-establish a health gut microbiota is by incorporating live probiotic cultures into your diet. Probiotics, which means “for life,” are essential in supporting your microbiome and immune function. Delicious food sources of probiotics that are easy to incorporate into meals and snacks include:
For additional support, most children and adults can benefit from taking a standardized probiotic supplement. Studies have shown that regular use of live probiotic cultures can help reduce the incidence of respiratory tract infections in adults by 47% and shorten their duration by as much as 1.9 days. Children with recurrent respiratory tract infections have also been shown to significantly reduce their frequency of cold episodes as well as shorten their duration of symptoms, such as cough and fever, by modifying their gut flora with an oral probiotic.
Because each probiotic strain has a slightly different role in the gut microbiota, it is important to consider those most appropriate for your age, health, and use of antibiotics or other medications. Webber Naturals offers a range of innovative and condition-specific probiotic supplements, such as Probiotic 10 Billion and Travel Probiotic. They are shelf stable and supported by research.
A daily commitment to gut health
Washing your hands once isn’t enough to keep them germ-free all season! The same concept applies to probiotics. Benefits are not gained through a single oral dose, but by feeding your microbiome daily with a nourishing, well-rounded diet that includes probiotics. Over time, this practice will help build a solid foundation for gut health and a well-functioning immune system.
1. Bull M, Plummer N. Part 1: The human gut microbiome in health and disease. Integrative Medicine. 2014; 13(6):17-22.
2. Mohajeri MH, Brummer RJM, Rastall RA, et al. The role of the microbiome for human health: from basic science to clinical applications. Eur J Nutr. 2018; 57:1-14.
3. Fung TC. The microbiota-immune axis as a central mediator of gut-brain communication. Neurobiol Dis. 2020; 136:104714.
4. Galdeano CM, Cazorla SI, Dumit JML, et al. Beneficial effects of probiotic consumption on the immune system. Ann Nutr Metab. 2019; 74:115-24.
5. Schroeder BO. Fight them or feed them: how the intestinal mucus layer manages the gut microbiota. Gastroenterol Rep (Oxf). 2019; 7(1):3-12.
6. Lenoir-Wijnkoop I, Gerlier L, Roy D, et al. The clinical and economic impact of probiotics consumption on respiratory tract infections: Projections in Canada. PLoS One. 2016; 11(11): e0166232.
7. Li KL, Wang BZ, Li ZP, et al. Alterations of intestinal flora and the effects of probiotics in children with recurrent respiratory tract infection. World J Pediatri. 2019; 15(3):255-61.