In 2012 I was infected with a very serious, life-threatening bacteria. Thankfully due to early detection and a fabulous orthopedic surgeon, the outcome of my ordeal was a good one. It was at this time, my doctor advised me to begin taking a probiotic daily. I had no idea at the time how probiotics and the immune system were related.
What are probiotics and what do they do?
Have you heard the saying “it all lies in the gut?” This saying is indeed relevant when you consider that 70-80% of our entire immune system resides within the gut.
Inflammation in the intestines creates a pathway for the immune system to attack invading viruses and bacteria. But when intestinal inflammation is present but not needed, illnesses such as the flu, allergies and chronic infections can occur. A gut reinforced by probiotics is able to defend itself against the effects of unwarranted inflammation.
Probiotics can boost the body’s immune system and help the body fend off infections. Think cold and flu season that plagues so many of us. Knocking on wood as I say this, but I can’t remember the last time I had a cold! And I never take a flu shot! A New Zealand study* conducted with professional rugby players showed probiotics enhanced the player’s ability to ward off and fight colds. This study involved 30 rugby union players who received either a probiotic supplement (3 billion CFUs/day), or placebo, for four weeks. During this period, 80% of the placebo group experienced a single episode of the common cold or stomach upset, 53% of those in the probiotic group encountered such illness. In the placebo group, the duration of illness was 5.8 days; duration among probiotic subjects was 3.4 days. The authors of this study suggested: “These positive effects of probiotic supplements provide evidence for the beneficial effects of daily supplementation with these probiotic strains in highly trained rugby union players.”
Can’t my body take care of itself?
Our bodies have a natural immune system. However, this natural immune system can be negatively affected by invading viruses and bacteria which upset gut flora. If gut flora is insufficient, the intestinal tissue cannot regenerate so as to prevent the bacteria/virus/inflammation from escaping into the blood stream (think “leaky gut“).
Probiotics can modulate the immune system, enhancing the body’s innate immunity. This modulating effect helps alleviate excessive inflammation in the gut, thereby boosting immune function. We are becoming more knowledgeable about intestinal flora and the importance of the protection needed from beneficial bacteria. Quality supplements and raw fermented and cultured foods are great sources of probiotics. The importance of getting these in your diet daily or taking a quality probiotic supplement to provide them cannot be stressed enough!
*Brylee A. Haywood, Katherine E. Black, Dane Baker, James McGarvey, et al. (2014) “Probiotic supplementation reduces the duration and incidence of infections but not severity in elite rugby union players.” Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport Vol. 17, Issue 4, Pages 356-360.