We know the importance of washing our hands in the bid to help slow the spread of coronavirus and, indeed, other germs. But what other ways can we be looking at to improve our system in the fight against such aggressive viruses and diseases?
Supporting your immunity and promoting gut health is, arguably, the first line of defence against battling poor health and illness. Get the gut performing in balance and harmony and your body will be better prepared and stronger to take on attacks from viruses such as covid-19.
We spoke to Meyer Clinic’s Medical Director Dr Annelize Meyer and asked her to explain the importance of good gut health.
“Your gut is the foundation of your whole body’s health because most of your immune system is located there. Without a healthy gut, you can’t have a healthy immune system. Without a healthy immune system, you’re open to infections, inflammation and autoimmune disease.
“The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is full of trillions of bacteria that not only help us process food but that also help our bodies maintain stability and overall wellbeing. In healthy people, there is a diverse array of organisms, in an unhealthy individual, there’s much less diversity, and there seems to be an increase of bacteria we associate with disease.
“It’s these harmful bacteria that can lower immune function; increase the risk of asthma and allergies; and lead to chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and some cancers.
“Anything that can feed good bacteria and keep them plentiful to counterbalance the harmful bacteria is good for overall health. When the gut is happy, you are happy.”
Here are some top tips from Dr Meyer for improving the immune system and for keeping your gut happy and healthy.
Eat a diet rich in vegetables, legumes, beans and fruit
Fruit and vegetables are the best sources of nutrients for a healthy microbiota. They are high in fibre, which can be easily digested by your body. Certain types of “good” gut bacteria can also digest fibre which stimulates their growth. There is also evidence to suggest a diet high in fruits and vegetables can prevent the growth of some disease-causing bacteria. Some high-fibre foods that are good for your gut bacteria include:
Dr Meyer is also rather partial to a spoonful of Troo spread on rye bread toast. This honey alternative contains 65% fibre. It is completely plant-based, deriving from the Chicory root, and helps support a healthy digestive system, feeds your friendly gut bacteria and also helps manage blood sugar levels. Delicious!
Introduce fermented food into your diet
Fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, kombucha and tempeh are rich in lactobacilli, a type of bacteria than can benefit your health. Studies show that people who eat a lot of yogurt and drink kefir appear to have more lactobacilli in their intestines while also having fewer enterobacteriaceae, a bacteria associated with inflammation and a number of chronic diseases. Dr Meyer particularly favours kefir for its nourishing and refreshing taste, plus it’s easy to grab a bottle when she’s on the go. Her recommended kefir is Susana & Daughters Cowdray Estate Kefir. Nutrient rich with multiple vitamins and minerals and packed with protein and probiotics, it’s a go-to for her – and the rest of her team. We love it so much that we stock it in clinic.
Eat more whole grains
Whole grains contain lots of fibre and non-digestible carbs such as beta-glucan. These carbs are not absorbed in the small intestine and instead make their way to the large intestine. Once here, they are broken down by the microbiota and promote the growth of certain beneficial bacteria. To ensure your gut is working at its best it really is essential to increase your fibre intake. Meyer Clinic Nutritional Therapist Dominique Ludwig can advise you on the best form of whole grain to include into your diet, depending on your individual makeup, and how to knock up some tasty recipes with them. She can also work with you on all areas of gut health.
Vitamin A (VitA) is a micronutrient that is known as an anti-inflammation vitamin because of its critical role in enhancing immune function. It helps tighten the lining of the gut – the primal defence against disease – and therefore is essential to the development of the immune system.
A deficiency in Vitamin D (VitD) is associated with susceptibility to respiratory infections as well as the development of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis. VitD is important for maintaining immune system balance, especially during the cold and flu season. It protects against various autoimmune diseases, while enhancing the first line of defence against invading microorganisms.
Vitamin C (VitC) is one of the biggest immune system boosters as it supports white blood cell production and function as well as other immune system cells. Daily intake of VitC is essential for good health because your body doesn’t produce and/or store it. Foods rich in VitC include:
- Bell peppers
Breathing is an automatic function of the body that is controlled by the respiratory centre of the brain. When we feel stressed, our breathing rate and pattern changes as part of the ‘fight-or-flight response’. Fortunately, we can change our own breathing patterns. Controlled breathing, which is slower and deeper, has been shown to manage stress and stress-related conditions and to increase alertness and boost your immune system. Just five minutes a day of controlled breathing is shown to improve wellbeing. Dr Meyer practises deep breathing and meditation exercises, using programmes from experts such as Deepak Chopra. Michelle Fondin, Tara Brach, and Andy Puddicombe.