Staying healthy as the weather cools down is important, especially this year as COVID-19 continues to impact our lives. Digestive health plays an integral role in how well our immunity functions on a daily basis.
The digestive system has two primary functions: digestion (from absorption of nutrients to the elimination of waste) and maintaining the balance between the good and bad bacteria and other elements. “Our digestive system works hard every day to help us make the most of good bacteria and self-antigens while attacking harmful microorganisms. It’s possible thanks to a highly-efficient mucosal barrier that, when it’s functioning correctly, can coordinate and induce healthy immune responses,” says Dr. Simon Mathews, Vivante Health’s Chief Medical Officer.
The microscopic cells responsible for the lion’s share of maintaining this healthy balance in our gut make up the microbiome. In this post we’ll share some insights from the GIThrive Care Team to help maximize gut health and immunity by paying attention to our own unique gut microbiome.
Our Own Personal Defense System
Each of us has approximately 39 trillion microscopic cells bustling around inside of our gut right now. Why so many? Because these micro critters have some very important jobs to do.
Together, these cells are known as the gut microbiome, and one of the gut microbiome’s most crucial functions is to regulate immunity. Simply put, the bacteria in the gut can influence how susceptible our bodies are to disease. One example: High amounts of beneficial bacteria like Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus are found in healthy guts, but these numbers are often extremely low in people with diseases, such as Crohn’s and colitis.
Nutrition is a known contributor to the state of the gut microbiome. Researchers are still in the early stages of examining exactly how diet affects gut bacteria, but these are exciting times. New insights are coming out almost daily.
Speaking of insights, GIThrive includes an optional in-home test kit for members to learn more about their own unique gut microbiome. GutCheck helps start conversations with GIThrive dietitians and health coaches to figure out ways to optimize nutrition, healthy habits and even help guide conversations between members and their physicians. Click here for more info on the program.
One recent study explored how dietary fiber is linked to the gut microbiome, particularly when it comes to the two beneficial bacteria mentioned above, Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. Researchers from Bond University in Australia conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis that involved 64 clinical trials and 2,099 healthy adults. They analyzed the gut microbiomes of two groups—those who ate a high-fiber diet and those who ate a low-fiber diet—and compared the bacteria in their stool samples.
The high-fiber group had a greater abundance of Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus and fecal butyrate (a bacterial byproduct linked to a balanced gut) than the low-fiber group. Two specific types of fiber are linked to significantly higher amounts of these bacteria: fructans (such as bananas, artichoke, asparagus, garlic, onions); and galacto-oligosaccharides (beans, nuts, hummus, soy milk).
“Published data suggest that dietary fiber does in fact boost the amount of beneficial bacteria in the gut,” says Dr. Mathews. “We look forward to more research, exploring not only the impact of fiber on the gut, but of other nutrients and in different forms. In the meantime there are a number of healthy habits we can all adopt to help boost our health.”
5 Immunity Boosters from GIThrive
Here are a handful of tips from the GIThrive team to give immunity a leg-up this holiday season.
1. Manage stress
Here’s one example of a simple stress reliever we can all do anytime, anywhere: Inhale for 4 seconds. Hold breath for 7 seconds. Exhale for 8 seconds. Repeat a few times. This “4-7-8” trick can be done whenever anxiety is rising or we’re feeling overwhelmed. Watch our exclusive 5 Ways to Manage Stress webinar (click below) for more guidance.
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2. Exercise regularly
While it’s not necessary to start running marathons, getting regular activity will help the immune system. The point is to get the heart rate up and move more often throughout the day. Try walking, jogging, cycling, aerobics, yoga, weight training, or even a simple daily stretching routine. Activity helps everything move better in our bodies down to a cellular level—including digestion.
3. Cut back on less-than-helpful habits
Smokers are much more likely to have health complications than non-smokers. Alcohol also isn’t great for the immune system. It’s best to either not drink alcohol at all or only drink in moderation. Think of it like this: When we overdo it, our bodies’ resources are busy compensating for the added stresses from smoking or tending to hangovers, it could leave the door open for disease and illness to creep in.
4. Eat plenty of healthy food
Fruits and vegetables are full of disease-fighting, immune-boosting goodness. The more colorful, the better. Here are a few immune-boosting superfood ideas: Citrus fruits, kiwi, red and green bell pepper, ginger, garlic, broccoli, spinach, turmeric, green tea. Avoid high-fat foods that are fried, greasy, or made with heavy cream.
5. Get more fluids…and sleep
Nothing beats water for staying hydrated, but for those not crazy about downing it straight try adding fruit, veggies (cucumber can be great) or a sprig of mint. And of course, sleep helps our bodies repair overnight. Better sleep hygiene can go a long way toward helping immunity and digestion both work better in the long run.
When employees have resources to help make healthy choices and answer personal questions about digestion and immunity, it not only improves their lives but can impact your company’s health. To explore the link between digestive health and lowered overall medical spending, get in touch with us:
The GIThrive Care Team contributed to this blog post.