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Why It’s Important to Boost Your Immune System and Gut Health Now

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As we head into winter and begin to prepare for the start of flu season, experts point to the importance of one particular factor that can boost our immunity against disease and infection: gut health.

To help you fight the disease this winter, Yahoo Lifestyle asked Blooms The Chemist Pharmacist, mental wellness and sleep expert, Luke Owen to share the latest scientific advice.

Protect yourself from illness this winter with expert-approved tips you can start today. Source: Getty Images

Gut health is linked to our ability to fight infections

“Evidence is mounting on the importance of gut health and the role gut microorganisms (or microbiome) play in our immune system,” Luke tells us.

“A healthy gut microbiome exists when the balance of beneficial microorganisms outweighs the negative effects of pathogen populations (called pathogens).

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“A disruption of the gut microbiome is linked to changes in digestion and immune function.”

How does my gut health affect my immune system?

According to Luke, gut health plays three important roles in immunity:

  1. Barrier defense – a healthy microbiome outcompete pathogens (pathogenic microorganisms) for space to access our body and nutrients for their growth

  2. Innate Immunity – our microbiome assists our immune system through early warning signaling in the presence of pathogens as well as the secretion of antimicrobial peptides that support our immune system

  3. Acquired Immunity – our microbiome also assists our learned immune system (e.g. the target of immune system vaccines). Evidence suggests that our microbiome activates and helps direct our immune T cells, which are essential for healthy immune function.

Why is it better to focus on immunity before Winter?

“COVID-19 mandates have seen us isolate ourselves and use social distancing to protect ourselves from the spread of infection. In line with these increasing restrictions, the rate of flu cases has fallen from 21,266 cases in 2020 to just 598 cases in 2021.

Sick woman with flu, cold, fever and cough sitting on sofa at home.  Sick person blowing nose and sneezing with handkerchief and handkerchief.  Woolen socks and medicine.  infection in winter.  Resting on a sofa.

Social isolation and reduced flu vaccinations during the pandemic could be the perfect storm for a rise in illness this winter – experts recommend boosting immune and gut health now, before winter arrives. Source: Getty Images

“As we know, COVID-19 restrictions are easing, and with work and social communities coming together, combined with cold winter weather, we will likely be physically closer to each other, which increases risk of spreading respiratory infections,” says Luke.

“Adding to the risk of illness during the winter, the number of Australians vaccinated against the flu has increased from almost 18 million in 2020 to 8.8 million in 2021.

“In 2022, cold and flu viruses are more likely to have opportunities to spread in a population that has not been significantly exposed since 2020.”

What can I do to improve my gut health and immune system before winter?

Luke explains that an important part of preparing your immune system for winter is taking care of your gut health.

“We know that the microbiome plays an important role in your immunity, and so optimizing your microbiome (gut health) is a great strategy you can adopt to reduce your risk of infection.”

Probiotics support gut health

According to Luke, using probiotic products is an established way to bring your gut microbiome back into balance, which can reduce the overgrowth of disease-causing organisms.

“Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide a health benefit when given at the right dose and with the right strain for your condition.

“In other words, probiotics can play an important role in helping your immune system prevent and treat infections.

Fermented vegetables for gut health - pickled cabbage with carrots and cucumbers, sour sauerkraut in glass jars.

Probiotics, found in fermented foods, yogurts and probiotic supplements, can improve gut health and immunity against disease. Source: Getty Images

“They are found in cultured foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, or sauerkraut as well as supplement capsules and powders.

“Your pharmacist can help you choose the right strain of probiotic for your condition, whether it’s lactobacillus rhamnosus for antibiotic-induced diarrhea or Bifidobacterium animalis for respiratory tract infections.”

Prebiotics promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria

“It’s also important to consider the benefits of prebiotics in promoting the health and growth of your microbiome,” says Luke.

“A prebiotic is a dietary fiber that passes through your gut undigested and stimulates the growth and/or activity of certain ‘good’ bacteria in your large intestine.

“Prebiotics include fructans and galacto-oligosaccharides commonly found in fiber-rich foods such as asparagus, baked beans, green peas, nectarines, oats, watermelon and wheat.

“If you’re unable to get at least 25-30 grams of fiber a day, your pharmacist may be able to help you with a simple fiber supplement like psyllium husk.”

Consult your healthcare professional before starting these treatments if you have severe immune deficiency, a short bowel, or are currently on a FODMAP diet.

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