Have you ever realized that we see a sharp increase of illness at the same time of the year when holiday treats high in processed ingredients are abundant, stress toward the end of the year is sky high, nutrients that are higher in Summer like Vitamin C, zinc, and vitamin D are often much lower?!
It’s that time of year where there is less sun, more dense and cloudy air with more toxins in the air, and less carbon sequestration, with even more sedentary habits and processed holiday food. It often becomes the time your gut-immune system is put to the test and at times, overwhelmed. Getting sick is no fun, so prevention is key! We are resolving to re-label ‘Flu Season’ as ‘Gut Nurture Season’ to help you do just that!
Our microbiome is the headquarters of our body's immune defense system. We know that 70-80% of the body’s immune cells are actually rooted in and around our gut, which makes the relationship between gut health and the immune system crucial. The gut contains the highest concentration of lymphoid/ immune tissue in the body in something called the Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (GALT). The GALT is home to millions of immune cells, greater than anywhere else in the body.
Lymphoid (immune) tissue covers most of the intestines so they can detect & attack gut invaders, & produce antibodies against bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens that interact with the gut via the mouth, nose, throat, or food. The largest collection of this GALT lymphoid tissue resides in the small intestine, which has a permeable surface that allows food to enter the digestive system and the area in the body where the immune system is most active against food-borne pathogens, helping us get them out quickly before they cause long-term issues.
The cells that line your GI tract can interact with pathogenic microbes and trap them in the mucus, preventing them from spreading too far throughout the body. They sense microorganisms and secrete chemicals to respond to the entry of bacteria. The mucus layer that lines the intestine only allows bacteria and other microbes to enter through them, but not get in between them to help prevent breakdown of the bonds between the mucus and gut lining, which is what triggers leaky gut.
Now that we understand how the immune system plays such a strong role in the gut’s function, let’s read what research has shown us about this gut-immune relationship and how we can strengthen it. A 2019 study in the Cell Journal found that mice who were bred to produce large amounts of the compound desamino tyrosine (or DAT), which is a molecule normally produced as a by-product, AKA metabolite, by the gut microbiota from dietary polyphenols called flavonoids (compounds with antioxidant activities, that humans consume in common items like pomegranates, unsweetened dark chocolate, berries, & green tea) had increased resilience against the flu virus when compared to regular mice. This study provides more evidence to convince us to eat our antioxidants found in whole plant foods!
As Integrative Gut Health Dietitians, here are some of the tips and tricks we follow to keep ourselves healthy this time of year:
We eat mostly whole foods as comfort food in colder months and all year long. No matter where we are, we eat an abundance of gut healing, immune-supporting plant foods, including those high in polyphenol antioxidants as a top priority.
We keep hyper-refined foods minimal by reminding ourselves that they are holiDAYs, not holiWEEKs, holiMONTHS, or an entire season of indulgence. If we enjoy something more processed, we do it that 1 meal then move on with our whole food habits the next.
We exercise and get in movement we enjoy at least 5 days per week
We do our best to get great sleep, at least 7 hours per night, which supports immunity.
We include gut healthy, immune-supporting herbs & spices, which we try to keep growing at home.
We hydrate well and thoroughly, especially knowing we’re not eating as many water-rich foods in the colder months. We love teas, water with fruit, broths, kombucha, and other unsweetened beverages.
We wash our hands regularly with natural soaps, not antibacterials, which kill off large amounts of healthy bacteria in the process.
We spend time in nature as often as possible, breathing in the biome of the environment, exposing ourselves to microbes in nature and getting in extra Vitamin D. Most people’s Vitamin D levels dip once the weather becomes colder, so checking our vitamin D levels and supporting them accordingly to keep them above 30 ng/mL is key.
We eat probiotic foods in abundance. 1-2 servings of probiotic foods is recommended for a stronger immune system. We love unsweetened dairy free yogurts, miso, sauerkraut, kimchi, unsweetened kombucha and dairy free kefir, steamed or raw tempeh, and lacto-fermented veggies.
We eat prebiotic fiber in abundance, since pre-biotic literally means life-giving. Prebiotic fibers found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, grains, legumes, herbs, and spices specifically give life to the amazing probiotic bacteria and other microbes living in our gut.
We prioritize family time to de-stress whenever possible rather than getting caught up in the holiday hype and hustle. We take time to remember that presence > presents matters most.
We use conscious cleaning products which do not sterilize our environment, rather gently re-balance anti-inflammatory & inflammatory bacteria.
We consume key gut and immune-supporting nutrients including: Vitamin D, Vitamin C, Zinc, iron, and antioxidants.
We use red light, which studies have shown can decrease inflammation and support the immune system.
We drink Gut Nurture as a nice warm beverage during the Winter months and especially while traveling.
Whenever we do get sick, it is usually because we have neglected a few of the things above for too long. When this happens, we take a moment to rest & de-stress, hydrate, & hyper-nourish the gut with teas, soups, herbs, smoothies, & veggies.
Need support with your good gut or immune system? Our incredible team of highly knowledgeable Registered Dietitians have got your back (and gut!) We’d be honored to be part of your health journey.
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