How probiotics can supercharge your immunity
An outbreak of mumps in the National Hockey League (NHL) made headlines recently.
Mumps? The childhood disease? In the NHL? Big, strong, healthy men?
A review of research, new and old, pulls it together: elite athletes, like those in the NHL, endure punishing competition and demanding workouts for months on end. While exercise, of course, is a healthy activity that I recommend for everyone, too much can be too much.
When we really push our physical limits, often and over a good period of time, we can actually damage our immune cells and weaken the immune system as a whole.
But you don’t have to be a professional hockey player to put your immune system at risk.
In fact age, illness, certain medications—even just working through the day-to-day stresses of life can wreak havoc on your immune system.
But there’s a natural solution that continues gaining popularity (thankfully so)…and it can help turn your immune system into a virtually impenetrable fortress.
Perhaps you’ve already heard of probiotics.
The word probiotic comes from the Latin words pro, which means “for,” and bios, which means “life.” That completely sums up what probiotics are about—they’re for life.
A probiotic food or supplement contains living microorganisms—”friendly bacteria” that confer substantial health benefits.
Probiotics are well-known for their digestive benefits. They can help eliminate gas, bloating and indigestion—they help relieve constipation and ensure regularity.
But there is VERY strong evidence that probiotics can improve your immune system as well. In fact, research shows that 70% of your immune system is in your gut.
And the more I learn about these life-giving microflora, the more I’m convinced that nearly every illness has a gut-borne cause—and a gut-borne remedy.
Our gut is constantly exposed to foreign molecules, good and bad bacteria, viruses, pollutants and other toxins.
That’s why the health of our gut, and what we put into it, plays such a huge role in our overall health and quality of life.
Probiotics are especially important for adults over 50. One study measured friendly bacteria in people over 60 and found that their guts contained 1,000 times fewer friendly bacteria than those of younger adults.
That means 1,000 times less support for healthy, comfortable digestion…1,000 times less protection against gas, bloating and diarrhea…and 1,000 times less immune strength.
Obviously, keeping those bacteria healthy and plentiful couldn’t be more important. So here’s the best way to do just that.
As I mentioned, probiotics can do a whole host of amazing things. Among them, a steady supply of probiotics can help:
- Relieve traveler’s diarrhea
- Ease irritable bowel symptoms
- Protect against colon cancer
- Reduce risk of urinary tract infection
- Relieve constipation
- Increase vitamin K production, protecting against bruising
- Create B-vitamins for energy production
- Fend off vaginal infection
But there’s a catch.
Because our bodies are constantly assaulted with bad bacteria, viruses, pollutants, medications, and the like, in order to reap the optimal benefits, you really need to get a daily influx of probiotics.
If you take them only sometimes, you’re fighting an uphill battle, constantly trying to restore a healthy balance of good vs. bad bacteria.
Probiotics are especially important if you’re taking an antibiotic. Because antibiotics destroy all kinds of bacteria—good and bad. And every moment the good ones go unreplaced by dietary or supplemental probiotics is a moment of increased vulnerability.
So how do you get your daily probiotics?
Fermented foods are a great food source of naturally healthful probiotics. So it’s a great idea to stock your fridge with any or all of these suggestions:
- Dark chocolate
- Miso soup
- Kombucha tea
But understand, while probiotic foods are great and will provide you some probiotic benefits, they lose a substantial amount of potency in the digestive process. Your stomach acids will often kill all or most of the live probiotics before they get into your intestines, which is where they do their best work.
You’ll also want to check the ingredients list on any fruit-flavored yogurt. For one, there should be billions of active cultures. And many of the mass-marketed, fruit-flavored yogurts are often lacking in those cultures. Plus they’re loaded with sugars and over-processed to the point of impotence.
Natural, unsweetened yogurt is best. Feel free to add some fresh fruit or a little drizzle of honey or maple syrup.
Still, if you’re really looking for enhanced immune support, a daily, high-quality probiotic supplement, specially coated or formulated to withstand your damaging stomach acids, will do a far better job than foods alone.
So look for a supplement that contains most or all of these strains:
- Lactobacillus salivarius: quells gas and stop the growth of bad bacteria
- Lactobacillus acidophilus: resistant to the digestive process, this strain can help prevent vaginal infections and support healthy cholesterol
- Lactobacillus casei: helps kill bad bacteria and may help prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea
- Lactobacillus plantarum: reduces gas and the symptoms of IBS
- Lactobacillus fermentum: helps prevent urinary tract infections and protect against food-borne infections
- Bifidobacterium longum: helps support the immune system and reduce inflammation
Perhaps if the NHL knew what you now know about probiotics, they would have nipped that mumps outbreak in the bud.
But add these powerful little protectors to your every day and they’ll help you take the best possible care of yourself.
Last Updated: March 12, 2020
Originally Published: February 27, 2015