Probiotics and Immune Health

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Staying Healthy During COVID-19

Staying Healthy during COVID-19

Activities in the categories of eating, exercising, managing stress and maintaining health were all recommendations from Henry Ford Hospital, the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation and the health reporter from Time magazine.

Eat Well

  • Given the constraints on grocery shopping, eating well can be a challenge. Strategies to eat to maintain health during the crisis include:
    • Planning — Take an inventory of what is on hand and plan around those items to create healthy meals.
    • Stability — Purchase shelf stable and frozen foods so they will keep.
    • Canned, dried or frozen goods should be low in saturated fat, salt and added sugars. Preferred levels are "less than five grams of sugar per serving, less than 200 milligrams of salt per serving and less than 1.5 grams of saturated fat per serving,"
    • Fresh Produce -Buy fresh produce when it is available. At home, cut up the fruits and vegetables and put them in the freezer, because they can be used for months to come.
  • Find a recipe site where you can plug in available ingredients and it will provide a recipe.

Move Well

Stress Well

Maintain Health

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Immune Health

The immune system is the body's natural defense system against bacteria, viruses, and other antigens. It is important to keep the immune system healthy so a person does not become ill. Food, exercise, sleep, stress and gut health all affect the immune system.


  • The immune system has been designed evolutionarily to be the body's natural defense system. It is a complex network of cells, tissues and organs that work together to defend the body against invaders.
  • The invaders include viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungus, all antigens which can make a person ill.
  • A healthy immune system first creates a barrier that stops the antigens from entering the body.
  • However, if an antigen slips by the barrier, the immune system then produces white blood cells, proteins and other chemicals that attack and hopefully destroy the foreign substance before it can reproduce.
  • If the foreign substance does begin to reproduce, the immune system revs up and calls in even more attackers.


  • The immune system has the ability to recognize millions of different antigens. It can also produce what it needs to kill off nearly all of them.
  • When it’s working as it should, this multi-faceted defense system can keep illnesses ranging from cancer to the common cold at bay.
  • Eating poorly, being a couch potato, not getting enough sleep, and being chronically stressed all contribute to a weak immune system.
  • When your immune system is not functioning optimally, viruses, bacteria, or toxins can overwhelm the body and illness follows.

How to Maintain a Strong Immune System

  • Not surprisingly, the advice from experts to maintain a good immune system is the same as the advice to stay healthy.

Stay Active

  • Working out is an excellent way to boost the immune system. When the blood is flowing rapidly, the body's antibodies and white blood cells circulate more rapidly, which results in them being able to detect and target bugs more quickly. Being active also lowers stress hormones, which also reduces chances of getting sick.
  • Research supports this theory. A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reported that people who exercised at least five days a week were half as likely to come down with a cold and if they did, the symptoms were less severe. Furthermore, other research has shown that raising the body temperature may help kill germs in their tracks.
  • It is also important to exercise in moderation and not unduly stress the body, as stress depresses the immune system.

Watch your diet

  • Yufang Lin, M.D., of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic states that 80% of the immune system is in the gut, so maintaining its health means being able to fight off infections faster and better.
  • Research has shown that Mediterranean style of eating is the best for maintaining a healthy gut. This means a diet of "fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, found in foods such as fatty fish, nuts and olive oil. This eating pattern is high in nutrients such as vitamin C, zinc and other antioxidants shown to help reduce inflammation and fight infection," the doctor explains.
  • Cooking with herbs such as ginger, garlic, oregano, rosemary, and turmeric. All have anti-inflammatory properties and some, like garlic, have been demonstrated to be protective against colds.
  • It's also important to scale back the consumption of meat, most importantly processed and fried foods which are more inflammatory. It's also wise to include fermented foods, such as Kefir, yogurt, miso and sauerkraut in a daily diet. These foods build up the good bacteria in your gut and support a healthy gut and immune system.

Stay on Top of Stress

  • There's a strong link between mental health and immune health. Chronic stress or anxiety produces stress hormones that suppress the immune system. Research done at Carnegie Mellon University backed up the findings in Britain that "people who are stressed are more susceptible to developing the common cold. "
  • People who are stressed also have a difficult time following other healthy habits, like eating right and sleeping well.
  • Another study showed that people who were stressed produced more cytokines, which trigger inflammation, and were therefore twice as likely to get sick.

Get enough sleep

  • Sleep is a natural immune system booster. Like a computer that slows and needs to be restarted, sleep reboots the immune system.
  • People who are sleep deprived create stress hormones such as cortisol, which work to keep a person awake and alert. These hormones suppress the immune system.
  • A recent study found that people who slept at least seven hours a night were four times less likely to get a cold than those who slept less than six.

Probiotics and Immune Health

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The gastrointestinal microbiome is an accumulation of bacteria, viruses and other antigens that live in the gut and have an effect on many physiologic processes. It includes genes that are not found anywhere else in the body. Every person's microbiome is different, but it can be changed with dietary changes.

What Is It?

  • Only discovered in the late 1990s, the gastrointestinal microbiome is a diverse consortium of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa, that reside in the gut of all mammals. Studies have shown the microbiome affects a "range of physiologic processes that are vital to host health, including energy homeostasis, metabolism, gut epithelial health, immunologic activity, and neurobehavioral development."
  • The microbial genome provides metabolic abilities greater than those of the host organism alone. The number of genes "in all the microbes in one person's microbiome is 200 times the number of genes in the human genome. The microbiome may weigh as much as five pounds."
  • Everyone has a distinct and personalized set of microorganisms, and the microbiome changes with age. Culture and location also have a significant impact on the microbiome. A person's health status also influences the microbiome compositional status.

What does it do?

  • "Changes in the gastrointestinal microbiome are associated with diseases in humans" that include inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, asthma, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, immune-mediated conditions, and neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism spectrum disorder.
  • The microbiome is vital for human development, nutrition, and immunity. The bacteria living in us are not invaders but valuable colonizers. Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and fibromyalgia are related to dysfunction in the microbiome. "Disease-causing microbes accumulate over time, changing gene activity and metabolic processes and resulting in an abnormal immune response against substances and tissues normally present in the body."
  • Autoimmune diseases that are deemed to be genetic appear to be handed down in families not by DNA but by inheriting the family's microbiome.
  • Some examples of the effects of the microbiome on humans include:
    • When a study was done on twins, one obese, and one lean, researchers discovered the gut microbiome is different between them. Obese twins have a lower variety of bacteria, and larger numbers of enzymes, meaning the obese twins are more efficient at digesting food and harvesting calories. Obesity has also been connected to a reduced mixture of microbes in the gut.
    • People with Type I diabetes, an autoimmune disease, have been shown to have a less diverse gut microbiome.
    • Infants who live with dogs are less likely to develop childhood allergies. This difference is thought to be caused by a reduced immune response from the dust of the homes with dogs. Children growing up on dairy farms are much less likely to have an allergy, hay fever, and asthma. Cases of asthma are increasing all over the world. "It has been hypothesized that increased cleanliness, reduced family size, and subsequent decreased microbial exposure could explain the increases in global asthma prevalence."

Maintaining a healthy microbiome

  • The microbiome of a person can be changed rapidly by changing dietary patterns. It has been demonstrated that just short-term consumption of animal or plant products can modify the microbial community structure. An animal-based diet was shown to increase the abundance of bile-tolerant microorganisms and decrease the levels of organisms that metabolize dietary plants. Thus, the gut microbiome rapidly responds to diet.
  • As people age, the composition of the microbiome also changes. Aging usually results in the onset of numerous clinical changes that enhance their susceptibility to diseases that accompany aging.
  • Aging-associated oxidative stress brings aggressive potential and virulence factors of anaerobic bacteria, which also changes the microbiome. It has also been reported that calorie restriction can increase the life span of some organisms by enriching correlated bacterial phylotypes.