Whether you get sick often or like to plan ahead for the next flu season, you want your immune system operating at maximum efficiency. If you’ve done your research, you already know that eating nutritious, healthy foods plays a big role in protecting you from viruses, bacteria, and more.
But do you know why?
Basically, your immune system functions as a sophisticated defense system capable of recognizing microscopic, disease-causing invaders and getting rid of them before they cause you (much) harm.
It’s an amazing and hugely complex system. But it requires maintenance, and even, sometimes, a little fine-tuning.
That’s where good food comes in — as well as sufficient sleep, exercise, and mindfulness habits. Healthy food and healthy lifestyle choices make for a healthy gut – and healthy gut makes for a strong immune system.
Can We Interest You In An Immune System Fun Fact?
- About 70% of your immune system exists in your gut. Right there is one very clear indicator that our gut health is essential for our immune system’s function!
- While the immune system is very good at keeping out harmful bacteria, many of our body’s most vital processes depend on good bacteria. Not only is our immune system pretty good at letting in the good and keeping out the bad, but the immune system itself also depends on good gut bacteria to thrive.
- Good gut bacteria can make the immune system more sensitive to “bad” environmental triggers. A more sensitive system allows us to protect ourselves from actual threats — and stop attacking our own tissues (as part of an autoimmune disease, for instance).
- Our immune systems have fantastic memories. Their various components can remember every microbe they’ve ever fought — making it easier to withstand future attacks from similar sources. As the bulk of our immune system is in our gut, the records of past enemies are stored there, too.
Immune System Issues? Let’s Troubleshoot Your Gut.
There are myriad reasons your immune system could be in need of a helping hand. Powerful though it is, your immune system is inherently sensitive to factors like:
- Environmental toxins. If you smoke, drink a lot of alcohol, or live in a polluted area, your immune system could be taking a lot of hits.
- A poor diet. If your body isn’t getting the nutrients it needs to thrive, neither is your immune system. After all, your immune system needs to be able to produce new cells and antibodies, and these require high-quality fuel!
- Chronic stress. Even though stress can seem like it involves only the mind and emotions, being stressed all the time triggers cascades of hormones that suppress healthy immune activity.
- Lack of rest or sleep: While you sleep, your body rebuilds and restores itself. This includes your immune system, which will build up its army of defense mechanisms while you’re snoozing. If you (don’t) snooze, your immune system loses!
These factors all lead to a weakened immune system, which in turn can lead to the following issues:
- Systemic inflammation. While inflammation — or your body’s way of attacking infection-causing invaders — is a key step in your immune response, things can get bad quickly if inflammation occurs too much due to a jumpy, stressed-out immune system. If it occurs too much over time, Inflammation can even result in chronic disease and tissue damage.
- Autoimmune disorders. When inflammation starts to turn on our own body’s healthy cells, we can get extremely sick. This results in disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and type 1 diabetes.
- Immunodeficiency disorders. If something occurs to depress or disable your body’s immune system, a common cold could be very dangerous for you! These disorders can be genetic or acquired. They include AIDS, leukemia, multiple myeloma, and a range of other diseases.
Whether you have one of these conditions or not, it’s time to invest in your immune system so you can be protected and healthy, come what may.
Building A Better Immune System: Our Top Tips
Fortunately, there are several lifestyle habits you can perform every day to keep your immune system in tip-top shape:
- Wash your hands frequently to reduce the potential pathogens entering your system. This will allow the immune system to prioritize more critical threats.
- Take care of your digestive system by eating nutrient-rich foods. (Don’t worry, we’ll talk about specific foods to keep your gut healthy in just a minute.)
- Try to limit your alcohol and caffeine. These harsh liquids may be fun to drink, but they can disturb your gut microbiota (and, in turn, your entire immune system.)
- Incorporate relaxation into your every day. Being too stressed can affect your digestive health as well as your immune system. Practice breathing exercises, go on walks, and give yourself permission to take naps — your immune system needs the break!
Of course, part of a healthy lifestyle is eating delicious, healthy, nutritious foods. We’ll discuss that next!
Get Inspired With A Truly Immunity-Boosting Menu
So, you’ve taken time to move your body. You’ve tried to find ways to slow down and stress less in your day-to-day. You’ve even found yourself drinking an unbelievable amount of water in an effort to give your body (and your immune system, and your gut) the hydration it needs.
Now, you’re ready to take your investments in your immune system to the next level.
Internalize this: The food you eat affects the connection between your gut health and your immune system. Your gut bacteria influence your immune system.
Therefore, the food you eat can have a significant effect on the way your immune system acts (or overreacts, or fails to act). As a professor of digestive diseases at UCLA put it: “The microbiome and the immune system are critically intertwined…what’s present in the gut determines what education immune cells get.”
Want to know what types of foods your gut (and your immune cells) need to do their jobs properly? Here’s your cheat sheet of immune-and-gut-boosting superfoods. Try adding some of these to your diet, and see how you feel:
- Plants. We know, this isn’t surprising. When you think about a prototypical healthy diet, images of broccoli and apples likely dance before your eyes. Like it or not, it’s true: Getting 5-7 servings of brightly-colored vegetables and fruits in per day gives your gut both the nutrients and the fiber it needs to thrive. (But you already knew that!)
- Good fats. Avocados, olive oils, and nuts serve as non-inflammatory fuel for your body, including your immune system and your gut. Substitute these in for vegetable oils and butter, and you’ll be headed in a gut direction!
- Frequent protein. Specifically, our immune system does better with small doses of protein throughout the day than it does with just a big steak for dinner. The muscle systems in our body release hormones that can help build our immune systems, and our muscles are made out of protein. Incorporating some plant-based protein sources, such as legumes, can help make throughout-the-day protein a little easier to achieve, particularly if you embrace a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle.
- Rely on natural herbs and spices to give your food flavor. Butter and sugar may make food taste good, but reserving them as rare treats is better for your microbiome. Plus, herbs and spices such as turmeric, rosemary, basil, and black pepper are rich in minerals, phytochemicals, and other compounds that your gut flora will absolutely love.
THE ROLE OF PROBIOTICS AND PREBIOTICS IN INDUCING GUT IMMUNITY
When you’re starting out on your immune-and-gut boosting journey, it can make a world of difference to have some help. Take our quiz to see which type of probiotic might be able to help in the role of inducing gut immunity.
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