The surprising link between gut health, stress and immunity.

The surprising link between gut health, stress and immunity.

You probably know that diet is the foundation of immunity.

If you’re researching natural ways to support your immunity during the cold season, you’ll no doubt read that everything starts with your diet.

That’s good advice: what you eat is important. After all, aside from Vitamin D (more about that later) almost every nutrient your body uses to help keep you healthy ultimately comes from food. Even the nutrients your body makes internally – the non-essential amino acids and fatty acids – use other nutrients from your food as their building blocks.

That means a healthy, balanced diet, filled with fresh, whole, nutritious food is an essential foundation for strong immunity. Certain vitamins – including Vitamin A, C, D and E directly play important roles in immune processes. So do minerals like Zinc, Iron and Selenium, and many other nutrients.

So regularly eating a wide range of foods that are rich in these nutrients is the first step to supporting your wellbeing all winter long.

Pop quiz: what IS your immune system?

When many people think of their ‘immune systems’, they imagine a single specific group of organs. Which considering our other bodily systems makes sense: our digestive systems are a group of organs. Our nervous systems consist of organs connected by nerves. Our circulatory systems are made up of organs connected by blood vessels.

So why would our immune systems be any different?

The truth, however, is that our immune systems are immensely complex. They do incorporate a couple of organs – along with a vast range of cells, tissues and processes. But the organs involved probably aren’t the ones you first associate with the idea of ‘immunity’.

For example, your skin – the biggest organ in your body - is part of your immune system’s ‘first line of defence’. Your large intestine (aka ‘your gut’) also plays a huge role in your immune defences. Some experts estimate that a large amount[1]of your body’s immune cells live within your digestive tract.

How gut bacteria balance can affect your immune health

It makes sense that your gut health would have some kind of link with your immune system health. After all, it’s one of the main entrants into the body and those nutrients we mentioned above can’t help to support your immune defences until your body has absorbed them. Optimal nutrient absorption relies on a happy digestive system… so a healthy gut supports healthy immune defences.

Beyond that, however, researchers are discovering that the balance of friendly bacteria living in your intestinal tract play an important role in your immune system.

Friendly bacteria – sometimes known as probiotic bacteria – live naturally in huge numbers inside your gut. Literally billions of them from over 400 species live within a healthy human intestinal tract. As part of the ‘rent’ they pay for their accommodation, they’ve been shown to help maintain healthy immune responses, including supporting natural ‘killer cells’ activity[2].

Stress can play a big role too

Once upon a time, scientists thought the mind and body were totally separate. They simply assumed that what happened in one realm had nothing to do with the other. More and more now, however, researchers are recognising a clear connection between the two.

And one of the areas that connection shows up most clearly is around immunity.

For example, as far back as 2006, scientists agreed that stress – especially of the chronic kind – has a negative effect on our immune systems[3]. One Australian researcher in 2008 also found that levels of a particular type of probiotic gut bacteria were lower in students at times when their stress levels were higher[4].

So if you’re under a lot of stress at work or home, figure out what stress management tools work best for you. Some people find it helpful to practise activities like

  • Journalling
  • Listening to relaxing music
  • Meditation
  • Yoga or tai chi
  • Creative hobbies

And don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional if you feel their help could be useful.

The power of getting outside whenever possible

In the first section of this article, we mentioned that Vitamin D was special in that it doesn’t ultimately have to come from food. That’s because your body produces it in a reaction that happens when the UV rays in sunlight strike the cholesterol in your skin.

Of course, during winter, the days are shorter, colder and dimmer. That means most of us spend less time outdoors – and even when we do venture out:

  • We cover up more, so there’s less skin exposed to light
  • There are fewer hours of daylight, so it’s more likely to be dark when we’re out
  • The sun is lower in the sky, so less UV makes through our atmosphere

If it’s difficult to regularly get outside when the sun’s shining, consider taking a Vitamin D supplement to help top up your levels over the winter period.

Finally, remember the Vitamin C

Although your immune defences do need several vitamins and minerals to do their job, there’s one nutrient we have to give special mention to: Vitamin C.

Vitamin C helps to maintain your immunity in several ways[5],[6]. Your white blood cells use it to support their function, and so do many other immune mechanisms within your body.

But not all Vitamin C is made alike, and Ester-C® is a special form of Vitamin C. Unlike standard Vitamin C, which begins to break down quickly after it enters your body:

  • Ester-C® is rapidly absorbed: it gets into your white blood cells fast
  • Ester-C® is long-lasting: it then stays in your white blood cells for up to 24 hours

In New Zealand, Ester-C® is available in the Nutra-Life Ester-C® range, which includes:

  • Ester-C® + Vitamin D3:high-strength, one-a-day Vitamin C plus the immunity support of Vitamin D, with your choice of either Echinacea or antioxidant bioflavonoids
  • Ester-C® + Probiotics: one-a-day Vitamin C plus the benefits of probiotics

Try adding one of the Nutra-Life Ester-C® products to the other common-sense strategies we’ve recommended to help keep your immune system happy this winter.

Ester C® is a registered trademark of The Ester C Company.

Vitamin supplements cannot replace a balanced diet. 

Always read the label. 

Use only as directed.

[1]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2515351/

[2]http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/011211p20.shtml

[3]https://www.apa.org/research/action/immune

[4]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18023961

[5]http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16118650

[6]http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15495002

5th Aug 2019 Nutra-Life

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