Do you seem to get sick with every single cold your kids bring home? Do you think your immune system is not working the way it should be? You try to take vitamin C or wash your hands more often, but nothing seems to work. If you are struggling with always getting sick, the problem could be your digestive system.
Your Gut and Your Health
Up to 80% of your immune activity takes place in your gut and the microbiome is at the center of that activity. The gut microbiome is the collection of billions of bacteria that live inside the digestive tract. We used to think these microbes were just along for the ride. But new research is revealing that there is a significant connection between gut health and overall health, especially in terms of immune function. (1,2,3)
Beneficial gut bacteria directly influence the immune system and how often you get sick in a few different ways: (4)
- Decrease inflammation by controlling the release of inflammatory compounds
- Increase activity of white blood cells, specifically macrophages and natural killer cells
- Maintain gut integrity to prevent harmful pathogens from passing through
- Help break down essential nutrients needed for immune function
- Compete for nutrition and space with harmful bacteria
Your diet, stress levels, previous illnesses, and antibiotic use can all throw off the balance of the gut microbiome, negatively impacting your immune function. An imbalance of bacteria in the gut might be the reason why you are sick all the time. Luckily, you can restore the health of your gut microbes and improve your immune health.
Restoring Immune Function with Probiotics
Probiotics are bacteria found in supplements and certain foods that can help re-balance the microbiome and boost immune function.
A 2014 study evaluated the impact of taking a probiotic supplement on the immune function of elite rugby athletes. Athletes are prone to respiratory illness due to the regular physical stress they must endure, making them great subjects for studies on improving immune function. In this particular study, athletes were given a probiotic supplement or a placebo for 4 weeks.
Of those who received the probiotic 16 out of 30 got sick during the study period, whereas 24 out of 30 in the placebo group got sick. Of the athletes who received the probiotic and got sick, the illness was 2 days shorter. (5)
Probiotics may help reduce the risk of digestive illnesses as well. A 2017 meta-analysis of 27 studies found that probiotic supplements reduced the risk of Clostridium Difficile infection by 60%, even when researchers controlled for variations in dosage, age, and illness. The effect of the probiotic was even more pronounced for participants who had a greater risk of developing the infection. (6)
Immune Boosting Probiotic Strains
The best way to support your immune system is to regularly eat probiotic-rich foods or take a probiotic supplement.
Fermented foods, like yogurt or sauerkraut, can be fairly high in probiotics and should be a regular part of your diet. But, the probiotic strains (varieties) in them can be limited. And, there is no way to know exactly which bacterial strains are in these foods, unless specifically listed on the label. Kombucha is a fermented drink source of probiotics. However, they have relatively low amounts of probiotics of only a few varieties, and often come packed with sugar and other additives that offset any probiotic benefit. Although fermented foods are a great addition to your diet, eating them doesn’t allow you to specifically target immune health.
A probiotic supplement gives you more control over the bacterial species you are consuming. There are hundreds of probiotic strains found in supplements, but only a few specific ones have immune-stimulating properties. These include: (7)
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Lactobacillus casei
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Streptococcus thermophiles
- Bifidobacterium infantis
*All of these strains are found in our Doctor’s Pick 50 Billion CFU probiotic and our soon to be introduced FEM-PRO 59.5 Women’s Daily Probiotic.
Taking probiotics with these specific strains can help rebalance your gut microbiome and restore healthy immune function. The better balance and diversity of bacteria in your gut, the stronger your immune system will become. Probiotics are one way to give your immune system a boost from the inside out so your body is able to defend itself against any illness your kids bring home.
- Tilg H, Moschen AR. Food, immunity, and the microbiome. Gastroenterology. 2015;148(6):1107-1119. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25575570
- Faria AMC, Gomes-Santos AC, Gonçalves JL, et al. Food components and the immune system: from tonic agents to allergens. Front Immunol. 2013;4:102. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2013.00102/full
- Purchiaroni F, Tortora A, Gabrielli M, et al. The role of intestinal microbiota and the immune system. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2013;17(3):323-333. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23426535
- Fata G, Weber P, Mohajeri MH. Probiotics and the Gut Immune System: Indirect Regulation. Probiotics Antimicrob Proteins. 2018;10(1):11-21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28861741
- Haywood BA, Black KE, Baker D, McGarvey J, Healey P, Brown RC. Probiotic supplementation reduces the duration and incidence of infections but not severity in elite rugby union players. J Sci Med Sport. 2014;17(4):356-360. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1440244013001904
- Goldenberg JZ, Yap C, Lytvyn L, et al. Probiotics for the prevention of Clostridium difficile‐associated diarrhea in adults and children. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;(12). https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD006095.pub4/abstract
- Yan F, Polk DB. Probiotics and immune health. Curr Opin Gastroenterol. 2011;27(6):496-501. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4006993/