Probiotics Give Your Immune System A Big Boost
6 minute read
Taking care of our immune systems should not just be a seasonal job. While our immunity can always use a little extra attention during cold and flu season, we really should provide boosts to our immune systems all year round. You always hear about increasing your intake of vitamin C and zinc, as well as tea and broth, but have you heard about taking probiotics?
Most people associate probiotics with gut health. And they would be right. Probiotics have been known to support the health of our intestines and digestive system. What is not known is that 70 to 80% of our immune system is located in our gut. What this means is that by taking care of our intestinal flora, we can subsequently take care of our immune system.
The lining of our intestinal walls is covered with lymph nodes. These nodes are critical components of the immune system, primarily responsible for filtering foreign and dangerous particles. The identification of viruses and pathogenic bacteria triggers an inflammatory response.
However, sometimes inflammation is present when there is no trigger, which can be dangerous. What results is allergies, infections, or the flu. Probiotics in the gut help to mount a defense against this unwarranted inflammation.
Probiotics also work with intestinal epithelial cells to ensure the immune system functions efficiently. Epithelial tissues, which form a barrier against harmful microbes and substances are reliant on intestinal flora.
When levels of intestinal bacteria are insufficient, epithelial cells are unable to regenerate. Probiotics help to encourage the survival of epithelial cells, strengthen cell barrier function, and initiate protective responses from the cells.
For the most part, we have a substantial community of good bacteria within our gut. These levels can become depleted due to stress, dietary changes, food allergies, and most significantly, antibiotics.
While antibiotics are great for getting rid of bad bacterial strains, they tend to also eradicate the good ones, too. The more antibiotics you use, the lower your natural community will be, which impacts your immune system and ultimately, your health. We become exposed to pathogens worse than the ones we took the medication for in the first place.
The Working Relationship
These helpful microbes have developed a means of communicating with our immune cells, allowing our bodies to communicate with them in establishing a defense. Intestinal flora support and enhance the development and maturity of immune cells, blocking any pathogenic materials from getting into our system.
Probiotics act as a barrier reinforcing the intestinal lining. This makes sure that no harmful bacteria or viruses can get through and enter the bloodstream. This is a major supporting role for our immune system, reducing the chance of infection and immune-related reactions.
Pathogenic or 'bad' bacteria are opportunists. This means that if the situation and environment are right, they will multiply and colonize. In truth, 80% of the bacteria in our bodies is opportunistic and can become harmful or beneficial at any given time.
It is therefore important to care for the beneficial flora to allow them to thrive and flourish. If the levels are allowed to deplete in any way, you could be facing a hostile takeover.
Some intestinal microbes have a correlation with healthy intestinal flora. The problem is that the end products of their growth are organic acids; lactic and acetic acids.
The presence of these acids in the body reduces the pH of the intestines, which creates an ideal environment for harmful bacteria. Probiotics are able to combat this with their antibacterial peptides. These are capable of destroying any dangerous bacteria in the gut.
Our intestines are constantly exposed to pathogens and toxins from food and ingested substances. Our gut, therefore, contains 25% of the body’s immune cells and provides 50% of the body's total immune response.
Our intestinal flora system does not develop until after birth when the area is quickly colonized by our new friends. During our first year of life, our intestinal flora grow to reach adult levels. If there was not a need for something, why would we develop it so rapidly?
The Proof is Out There
Recent studies have shown that probiotics can prevent bacterial infections. In a study with mice, administered probiotics provided complete protection to the subjects. The survival rates from the pneumonia virus were significantly lengthened (1). Although the study involved animals, the results are significant. The administration of daily probiotics helped to protect the mice from a serious virus by enhancing their immune systems.
In another study, one group of rugby players were given daily probiotics for a 4 months and a control group was given a placebo (2). The placebo group contracted more colds and upset stomachs than the probiotic group. Additionally, the colds lasted longer in the placebo individuals. Daily probiotic supplements, which clearly give our immune systems an advantage over viruses and pathogens, should be included as a part of our daily routines.
The Bottom Line
Probiotics are available in supplement form, as pills, or drink. However, you can also obtain probiotics in fermented foods like yogurt. It is important to remember that doses and different strains have different effects. Always be sure that the products you are taking have been scientifically backed to ensure they will be effective.
The content of the probiotic is more important than the source of delivery. Not all products have clinically validated strains so you need to do your research and consult a physician before starting any supplement program.
Pay attention to CFUs (colony-forming units), which indicate the levels of live microbes in the product. You always want to pick a probiotic that lists each of the following pieces of information; strains, CFUs, expiration date, recommended serving size, health benefits, proper storage information, and corporate contact details.
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