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October is a sure sign of “Winter is Coming” with the commencement of the “flu season.”  There are constant reminders in local drug stores of immunization shots appearing all over.  Vaccines are essential as they assist our bodies in protecting against the flu, measles, pertussis, and many other infectious diseases during the winter months.  Immunizations unite with our body’s natural defense mechanisms the immune system to keep us healthy.  However, it is more crucial that we strive to maintain the health of our innate immune system throughout life to ensure optimum health and well-being.  Research is showing the “gut” of all organs within the human body plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy, vigorous immune system.

The Gut is made up of primary bacteria, and other microscopic living things called microbiome (micro =small, biome=community).  The community of microbiota is in an area of the large intestine called the cecum.  The type of food we eat and our genetics determines the kind of microbiome contained within our Gut.   We acquire microbiome at birth, and by 2 1/2 years old, we have all the microbes needed to sustain life.  There are 40 trillion bacterial cells in our body.  The primary purpose of bacteria is to protect us throughout our lifetime from various pathogens found in food additives, pollen in the air, and the microorganisms in dust or dirt. The gut bacteria protect us from becoming ill from these foreign pathogens by working with our immune system.

Research is showing that the gut microbiome controls how the immune system works.  There is an innate ability for the Gut to communicate with immune cells through a complex signaling system or axes.  The gut bacterial microbiota controls White Blood Cell production and distribution when we are ill.

It is crucial to maintain a healthy, bacterial microbiota balance.  Studies show any disturbances or alteration in the bacterial microbiota will significantly affect our immune system and our susceptibility to infections.  As evidence-based research studies report, our diets primarily control gut microbiome-“you are what you eat.” Listed below are suggestions on how to  improve and maintain a healthy microbiome:

  • Fiber: High-fiber foods feed the healthy bacteria that will enhance immune function, reduce inflammation and chronic disease, and regulate mood.
  • Prebiotic-Rich foods: Prebiotics feed healthy bacteria.  Good sources of prebiotics are artichokes, chicory root, leeks, onions, garlic, asparagus, whole wheat, spinach, beans, bananas, oats, and soybeans.
  • Choose Probiotic Foods: Probiotics are live bacteria or yeasts found in fermented foods that when consumed, take up residence in the Gut and improve health.  Healthy sources are sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kimchi, and water kefir.
  • Avoid Animal Products: Red meat, high-fat dairy products, and fried foods all reduce the growth of healthy bacteria and enhance the growth of “bad” bacteria linked to chronic disease.
  • Limit Fats: Avoid fried foods, sauté with cooking spray or broth instead of oil, and use low-fat salad dressings, especially if you have diabetes or prediabetes.  Most plant foods are naturally low in fat.
  • Avoid Unnecessary Antibiotics: Overuse of antibiotics can kill off healthy bacteria.  The US Food and Drug Administration estimates that 80 percent of antibiotics are in animal agriculture.  Choose meats and other foods that are antibiotic-free.
  • Practice a Healthy Lifestyle: Exercising, getting enough sleep, and managing stress can all have a positive impact on gut microbes.

A healthy diet determines a healthy gut, a healthy gut fosters a strong immunity, feed it well because “Winter is Coming.”