11 Jun How Do Probiotics Work?
Fighting Infection From the Gut
Gastrointestinal Associated Lymphoid Tissue (GALT)
Our digestive system is a prime entry point for a disease-causing organism to enter our bodies. So the body has developed a highly specialized digestive-immune interaction system called Gastrointestinal Associated Lymphoid Tissue or GALT. An overwhelming percentage of our immune system is present in the gut as this GALT and rightly so as it is a vulnerable place for the body. Food presents a risk of infection and the body recognizes this and strives to protect itself.
The environment within our digestive tract affects this GALT. This environment is made up of digesting food, digestive secretions and all-important microorganisms. Trillions of microorganisms exist within our gut to help digest food, produce vitamins, short chain fatty acids and inhibit infectious microorganism growth, but they also affect our immune system. The multiple strains of microorganisms are collectively termed microbiota and when it is healthy and flourishing with the correct species of microorganisms it provides us with strong immunity. It does this by the digestive tract sending messages to the immune system telling it to produce more infection fighting chemicals or immune cells when there is a infection present. These messages are in the form of chemicals excreted from a healthy microbiota and a healthy gut lining, which the micro biota contributes too.
Probiotics are a group of microorganisms such as bacteria and yeasts that when taken in large enough quantities give health benefits to the host, which is us. Probiotics are largely used to promote digestive health but as I have outlined before if you have a healthy microbiota, which is what probiotics create, you will have a stronger immune system. According to a Cochrane Review, when certain strains of lactobacilli and bifidobacterium are supplemented consistently, they decrease the incidence, duration and severity upper respiratory tract infections (Hao, Lu, Huang & Wu, 2011). Another study conducted on children ages three to five, noticed reduced episodes of ‘snotty’ noses, cough, fever, decreased use of antibiotics and less days off school due to illness (Leyer, Li, Mubasher, Reifer & Ouwehand, 2009).
Probiotics are an excellent tool to enhance our immune systems and are present in supplement form or within fermented foods. The specific scientifically studied strains that are present in some supplements are ideal if your body needs targeted help in the short run. Initially, take these specific strains until a low immune system is strengthened. The probiotics that are within food occur in large amounts in a multi strain fashion or multiple types of bacteria and yeasts. These foods include quality fermented dairy products like yoghurt and kefir, fermented drinks such as kombucha, and lastly traditionally pickled vegetables such as sauerkraut. When these fermented foods are of high quality they are packed full of beneficial microorganisms and are better incorporated into the diet for the long term to enhance your immunity every day of the year.
So the next time your child is getting sick at daycare, you’re getting sick and missing work, or you are on antibiotics for respiratory infections all year round, think of your gut and supplement with probiotics or eat fermented foods.
To find those specific strains of bacteria and yeasts to strengthen your immune system this winter contact NatMed to speak to one of our highly qualified naturopaths or nutritionists.
Hao, Q., Lu, Z., Dong, B. R., Huang, C. Q., & Wu, T. (2011). Probiotics for preventing acute respiratory tract infections (review). The Cochrane Library, (9), i-49. Retrieved at DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD006895.pub2.
Leyer, J. G., Li, S., Mubasher, M. E., Reifer, C., & Ouwehand, A. C. (2009). Probiotic effects on cold and influenza-like symptoms incedence and duration in children. Pediatrics, 124(2), e172-e179. Retrieved at DOI: 10.1542/peds.2008-2666