With the changing season and the fear of harmful bacteria and viruses lurking in every nook and corner of our surroundings, we are all taking extra care of our immune system. Immunity is the body’s natural ability to fight viral and bacterial infections and keep us protected. When we are strong and healthy, we don’t notice it but when we fall sick, get a cold or flu, we blame it to a weak immune system.
We have heard of many ways of boosting immunity, but have you ever thought of building immunity by keeping your intestine healthy. I am sure not because the intestine has always been linked to digestion of food and absorption of nutrients, but would you believe it if you were told that the intestine is also the largest immune organ of the body. Yes, it is, because it contains about 70% of the body’s immunity.
This makes us wonder about the connection between the intestine and immunity. The answer is simple- with all the food that we eat we also take in harmful bacteria and toxins which reach the intestine directly. It therefore has to be geared to destroy what is not safe for us and keep us protected.
The many facets of modern life like a fast-paced life, too little sleep, high stress levels and taking antibiotics can decrease the beneficial bacteria in the intestine. A decrease in their numbers can cause severe intestinal diseases and dampen our immunity which increases the risk of infections including cold, flu and allergies. This in turn can affect other aspects of health including heart and brain health.
One of the best ways to increase the number of beneficial bacteria in the intestine is by consuming a probiotic food which contain probiotic bacteria as a part of the diet. Probiotics literally mean “for life” and are completely different from antibiotics. Probiotic foods normally contain bacteria which have been scientifically tested for their ability to reach the intestine live to make the intestinal environment favourable for the growth of beneficial bacteria which in turn positively influence immunity.
Although most people associate probiotics with intestinal health, they are now being recognized as an easy step for strengthening and maintaining the immune system. So how do you choose a probiotic? It is important to remember that different strains of probiotics have different effects. Always be sure that the products you are taking have been scientifically backed to ensure that they will be effective.
Who needs a probiotic? Almost everyone who wants to improve their immunity. This includes children, adults and the elderly.
With the increasing pollution, most worrisome is the growing incidence of allergies and asthma especially in babies. The good news is that the risk was reduced when a probiotic was consumed during pregnancy by a group of women in Finland (Kalliomäki M et al, Lancet 2001).
Children and elderly often suffer from weak immunity – they fall sick easily and take time to recover. Mothers and caretakers are always worried about their health and take all precautions to keep them protected. Studies done in India and Japan showed that children, middle aged and the elderly fell sick much less, had fewer infections and recovered faster when they included probiotics as a part of their diet [Sur et al, Epidemiology and Infection (2011), Shida K et al, European Journal of Nutrition (2017), Kushiro A et al, Bioscience of Microbiota Food Health (2019)].
Athletes are another group of people who despite their intense physical stamina have weak immunity and are often down with cold and flu. If this was to happen just a day before an important tournament it can be very disheartening. Interestingly, a group of athletes at the Loughborough University in UK benefited tremendously when they consumed a probiotic for 16 weeks. In-fact the incidence of common cold was almost 50% lower for those who consumed the probiotic [Gleeson M et al, International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism (2011)].
Whoever thought that the intestine, which is often most neglected, holds the key not only to providing you all the essential nutrients that your body needs but is also the main organ that decides your risk of disease. Therefore, taking care of our intestinal health can help us get all the energy that we need and also build our immunity so that we are protected not only during the cold and flu season but all year around.