You’re probably aware that things like stress or sleep deprivation can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to getting sick. But what if we told you that your gut also has an important part to play in your overall health and how well your body responds to infection? Let this sink in for a moment: 70-80% of the immune system is actually found in the gut. And considering our immune system is our main defence against sickness, we should be doing everything we can to ensure it is functioning as it should. That’s where the gut microbiome comes in. Its job is to help regulate your immune system and keep YOU healthy. What the heck is a gut microbiome? Believe it or not, there are trillions of bacteria and other tiny microorganisms that like to hang out in our gut. These make up the gut microbiome, playing a very important role in the human body such as pulling the nutrients out of our foods and teaching our immune system how to attack foreign invaders. Love your gut If we want to be sure that our immune system continues to function optimally, we need to do our part. One biggie is ensuring our gut microbiome is healthy. Bad or imbalanced bacteria can result in inappropriate immune responses such as inflammation, which in turn, can lead to disease. Because immune cells are found in the lining of the gut, there is definitely a connection between poor diet and poor gut health. So what can you do to make sure your gut thrives? 1. Eat a healthy, well-rounded diet. Go for whole, nutrient-dense foods that contain prebiotics (e.g., garlic, onions, and leeks), and are high in fiber (e.g., vegetables, fruits, and nuts) and polyphenols (e.g., blueberries, green tea and dark chocolate). Why? Because prebiotic, polyphenol-containing foods are made from a type of fiber that isn’t properly digested by our bodies – which provides the necessary fuel for good bacteria to feed on and grow, ultimately resulting in a more diverse gut flora. 2. Avoid antibiotics, unless absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, antibiotics aren’t able to differentiate between good and bad bacteria, and can wipe out the healthy stuff that makes up your gut microbiome. Did you know that one week of antibiotics can alter the microbiome in your gut for one whole year often causing an imbalance called dysbiosis? So the next time your family doctor prescribes you (or your child) a course of antibiotics, don’t be afraid to ask questions to make sure you really need it. 3. Replenish good bacteria with probiotics. If you’ve been prescribed, or are already taking antibiotics, counter the negative effects by consuming probiotics. Probiotics come in supplement form, or can be found in fermented foods, like kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and yogourt. And to answer your question – yes – taking a good quality probiotic before, during, and after a course of antibiotics is definitely okay and has even been shown to reduce antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Just be sure to take antibiotics and probiotics a few hours apart, because probiotics are bacteria too. Not sure where to start? Check out our marketplace for probiotic products such as those offered by Genuine Health and Onnit, and listen to Naturopathic Doctor Nadia Kumentas explain how to start your day off right by taking care of your gut first thing in the morning. 4. Don’t overdrink. While certain types of alcohol are known to destroy good bacteria, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a glass or two every now and then. In fact, red wine (enjoyed in moderation) actually helps good bacteria flourish and decreases the presence of harmful bacteria. Cheers to that! 5. Cut down on sugary foods. Did you know that the recommended daily intake of sugar is six teaspoons a day? And at a whopping 20 teaspoons a day, the average American is clearly consuming way too much of that sweet white stuff. Not only does a diet that is too high in sugar decrease good gut bacteria, it has been linked to disease-causing inflammation. Hungry for more? Reach out to Health Concierge for more tips on how you can eat for the benefit of your immune system, choosing a quality probiotic, or to learn about other ways you can boost immunity to better protect yourself this winter season. And don’t forget to read our previous blog post for more ways to rebuild and maintain a healthy gut. Happy Eating!