How can good bacteria support the immune system?

In my previous blog, talking about natural remedies for cold and flu, I mentioned briefly that the good bacteria living in our gut have an important role to play in immune health; In this instalment, I will lay out exactly how taking bacteria could help to banish the winter bugs.

BACTERIA TO BEAT THE BUGS??

DID YOU KNOW…The gut contains cells which form 70% of our immune system, so the health of your gut has a huge impact on the health of the rest of your body.  And what keeps the gut healthy?  Your good bacteria! 

Inside every single one of us is a world of bacteria known as the microbiome.  These bacteria play a huge role in our health and wellbeing. No matter how hard we try, nothing in our environment is truly sterile – from the bathroom to the kitchen to our food.   Our intestinal immune system – supported by the microbiome – encounters more ‘baddies’ and protects us from more illnesses than any other part of the body.   Every day that we do not get ill after eating food or putting our hand to our mouth, we have the good bacteria in our gut to thank for it.

HOW DO OUR GOOD BACTERIA LOOK AFTER US?

  1. They look after the cells that line the gut wall:  The cells lining the gut form a ‘wall’ which keeps the ‘baddies’ safely in the gut and away from the rest of the body.  Bacteria like L. plantarum help to keep this wall healthy.  Without the right type of good bacteria, this wall can start to break down – a problem known as ‘leaky gut’.  Leaky gut is linked to recurrent illness, allergies and food intolerances.
  2. They provide competition: A nice healthy colony of good bacteria takes up all the available space and food for bacteria in the gut – meaning no space or food left for the bad guys!
  3. They create a healthy environment: Bacteria like L. acidophilus produce lactic acid which keeps all the other good bacteria healthy and happy, and creates a hostile environment for the unfriendly bacteria.
  4. They support the immune system: As well as keeping the gut healthy, certain good bacteria like B. bifidum help the immune system directly, both by reducing inflammation and encouraging the growth of infection fighting cells.

ARE SUPPLEMENTS NECESSARY?

The good bacteria which live in the microbiome can sadly be killed off by many aspects of a modern lifestyle, including:

  • Antibiotics – It is well known that antibiotics kill off the good guys as well as the bad.
  • The Pill and HRT
  • Digestive issues
  • Stress

This is one of the reasons many nutritionists advocate regular intake of good bacteria supplements – often referred to as probiotics. In addition, scientists have discovered that using specific good bacteria could help to support us after illness, and act as a helpful preventative measure.

WHICH STRAINS SHOULD YOU LOOK OUT FOR?

The three specific bacteria which have been shown to be helpful in supporting our immune health are Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria bifidum.  These bacteria have a number of different roles in supporting our immune health, and have been shown to work well as a team.  Therefore, if looking for a good bacteria supplement to support immune health, these would be the three bacteria to look out for.

Written by Jenny Logan DNMed (Jenny is a nutritional therapist who has worked with clients in health food stores and private clinics for over 20 years).

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