I don’t want to jinx it, but it finally feels like fall has arrived here in the Southwest. Yeah!
With the change in season, that also means that cold and flu season is coming along for the ride. Have you ever noticed that some people seldom get sick, while others have an endless supply of tissues and cough drops on hand? Or maybe you have noticed that a group of people can be exposed to someone hacking the same virus all over the place, and one person gets ill while the other remains well.
Why is that?
The reason lies in the strength of your immune system. The strength of your immune system is influenced by a number of factors, but increasing amounts of research show that it is largely dependent upon the strength, or health, of your digestive system. This is what some researchers have dubbed “the second genome”. Similar to the first genome, or your DNA, the second genome also has the ability to influence your relative health or disease state.
When you are exposed to that co-worker who is so dedicated that they drag all of the bad bacteria or viruses into the office to share with you, it is up to your immune system to protect you from being infected.
Strong immune system – no problem.
Weak or compromised immune system – break out the tissues and cough drops.
Aren’t all bacteria bad? No.
Inside your digestive system are many microbes, or bacteria. Microbes are live organisms that affect your overall health.
Some of these organisms are beneficial and protect you from disease. When in proper balance, the good bacteria outnumber the bad bacteria, or foreign intruders, and the immune system does the rest to corral and remove these un-invited guests. However, if you are lacking the proper balance of good bacteria in your gut, and your immune system function is in the tank, then you will be much more susceptible to infections such as colds and stomach flu.
With the advent of one medicine used more than it should be to fight off colds, good bacteria in your gut can become rapidly depleted. If you have recently taken antibiotics, you have had not only the bad bacteria wiped out, but also the good bacteria, as they are not completely selective in their destruction. If you have been on a recent course of antibiotics it may take months for your gut health to recover.
Antibiotics are not the only way that good bacteria become depleted in your digestive system. The chlorine in your drinking water can destroy them, as can the pesticide residues on the food that you eat. Great reasons to always filter your water, buy organic produce when you can, and thoroughly wash your fruits and veggies before eating.
Once the supply of beneficial microbes in your intestines dwindles, bad microbes such as yeast, fungi and disease-causing bacteria begin to take up residence. When the scale tips in favor of the bad, your immune system becomes compromised, along with your health. This can be the set up for many chronic disease states, including pain.
How can you determine the health of you gut?
Functional Medicine has advanced the concept of being able to test your relative risk of immune system compromise this cold and flu season.
If I see a patient susceptible to repeated colds, illnesses, or dealing with a chronic disease state (or they are just interested in bullet-proofing their immune system for the season) there are two diagnostic tests that are not routinely done at your standard medical visits when you are feeling sick that I explore:
- Food and Environmental Allergy and Sensitivity Testing – This provides a relative assessment of immune system health by looking at reactivity to substances in your environment. More reactivity = Poor immune health.
- Micronutrient analysis – With disrupted gut health comes the inability to maximally extract vital nutrients, vitamins, and trace minerals from your diet. If your body does not have the proper levels and balance of vitamins and minerals, than it cannot function best.
Patients who have been on antibiotics, or continue to struggle, may also benefit from a stool test. This will provide a detailed report of the type of bacteria in the gut, and how they may be out of balance.
Are probiotics helpful for improving gut and immune system health?
If you think you might be deficient in good microbes, than yes, you can attempt to remedy the solution by using a high-quality probiotic. Probiotics are good microbes that you can consume in your diet. They then settle in your digestive system and get to work protecting you from illness and destroying the bad bacteria that may be living there.
Probiotics are available in capsule form, so very easy to incorporate into your busy schedule.
However, like I discuss with all of my patients who take supplements – all supplements are not created equal. The supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar industry – most of it powered by marketing sizzle rather than quality science.
The quality and purity of supplements will vary tremendously from company to company, and store to store. This is why I made the decision to research and stock in my office only what I feel are the highest quality products out there – from companies that can actually produce some research to back up their claims.
Get ahead of this year’s cold and flu season by bolstering your gut, and immune, health.
Committed to your health,