A healthy gut microbiome may be your best immune defense

Cold and flu season is on its way, so we’re going to have our probiotics at the ready! We’re covering our bases when it comes to prevention and treatment by gearing up our guts.

What does gut health have to do with anything?

The World Health Organization defines probiotics as “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.”

Most of us are aware that probiotics and gut health can help improve digestion, but what does that have to do with immunity? Well, a lot, actually. Researchers have found substantial interaction between the immune system and the bacteria that populate our gut microbiome. This makes sense, since a huge proportion of the immune system is in the gastrointestinal tract—our gut.

It’s something we’ve always known

While the studies are current, people and animals alike have, for centuries, experienced the medicinal benefits of probiotics and how they help improve gut health through fermented foods like yogurt and kimchi. Even now, the medical field is exploring what probiotics can do for autoimmune diseases, cancer, and our neurological health. But, probiotics may also play a role in improving quality of life by helping us alleviate symptoms and recover faster from the dreaded cold and flu.

An inside job

Because the cause of cold and flu misery is a virus, antibiotics aren’t the cure we’re looking for; these important medications are designed to fight bacterial infections—not viral infections.

But that’s not to say that bacteria—in the form of healthy gut bacteria—have nothing to do with fighting an upper respiratory tract infection. Friendly bacteria, from probiotics, don’t interact directly with the virus itself; rather, they promote a heathy gut and subsequently, a healthy immune system.

The pros of probiotics

Researchers have described the role of friendly bacteria in our gut microbiome as defenders that spend their lives “excreting massive quantities of antibodies into the gut” in their quest to control the way our bodies react to outside microbial invaders. This is where probiotics come into play.

Researchers across the world have turned their focus to probiotics and their relationship with immune health.

Swedish researchers conducted a study on 272 adults and found that in comparison to the group taking placebos, the group using probiotics experienced milder cold and flu symptoms and a decrease in the infection’s duration. Cases of the cold and flu among participants taking probiotics averaged 6.2 days compared to the 8.2-day duration of their placebo-taking peers.

Power to the gut!

Let’s go with our gut this cold and flu season and gear up with probiotics for a better quality of life. Fewer sick days means more quality time; milder symptoms mean less discomfort. All this and a healthy digestive system to match? Pass the yogurt please!