antibiotics, antibacterial hand sanitizerThe change of seasons is the perfect time to get knocked down with a cold or flu.  It is a time when our immune systems are under constant assault because the outside environment is in a state of flux.   Our immune system’s ability to stay strong has a lot to do with how well it can adapt to stress. At the change of seasons, we experience a shift in sunlight, temperature, humidity and physical activity. But before you start bathing yourself in hand sanitizer or use antibiotics to protect yourself from contact with other people’s germs, consider this…..

Avoiding contact with viruses and bacteria is impossible, and in fact, our contact with microbes is essential to our survival as a species.  

Unfortunately, modern methods used to prevent the spread of bad germs and bugs, like anti-bacterial soaps and hand sanitizers, are having unintended devastating effects on our immune systems as a whole.  

The “good bugs” that serve to keep us healthy get wiped out with the bad

Scientists have discovered the more diverse and plentiful your microbiota,  (the beneficial bacteria of your gut) the lower your risk for both acute and chronic diseases and infections.

This includes conditions like heart disease, depression, anxiety, metabolic disorders, allergies, Alzheimer’s and auto-immune diseases.

Anti-bacterial, anti-microbial products and antibiotics are indiscriminate when it comes to killing germs

As a result, the population and diversity of good gut-bacteria has dwindled dramatically throughout our society as compared to more primitive cultures around the world.  

We have a less diverse and less intelligent immune systems due to the broad use of antibiotics.  We are not only exposed to antibiotics in medications and topical solutions, but also those that are administered throughout our food supply.

According to Consumers Union, “Humans are at risk both due to potential presence of superbugs in meat and poultry, and to the general migration of superbugs into the environment, where they can transmit their genetic immunity to antibiotics to other bacteria, including bacteria that make people sick.”

Another major assault on the human microbiota is the standard American diet.  Our propensity toward processed foods, refined grains and packaged goods provides little to no nutrition for our microbiota.  We are literally starving our “good bugs”!

The microbes in your gut need specific nutrients to function optimally and propagate appropriately.  Without the specific nutrients called microbiota-accessible carbohydrates, these bacteria are starved for nutrients and certain species will die off completely.   These effects can be irreversible, affecting future generations.

Gut microbes are responsible for breaking down fiber in our gut, which are unable to digest without their help

In addition to needing fiber, the gut microbiota feeds off of prebiotic foods; lacto-fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, yogurt, kefir and kombucha.

Eating a combination of lacto-fermented foods and adequate amounts of fiber from plants is essential.

Keep this in mind: in order to keep you immune system optimally functioning, you have to nutritionally support your microbiota EVERY DAY to keep these bacteria vital and strong.  

Taking a probiotic pill can be helpful for many people who live on a nutrient sparse diet, but the amount of bio-available probiotics in  pill form pales in comparison to lacto-fermented foods.  

For example, a single probiotic pill may contain billions of microbes, whereas a cup of quality yogurt or kefir will yield trillions!  

If you really want to keep your immune system strong this winter, here is what to do:

  1. Switch from antibacterial hand soap to regular old soap.  
  2. Avoid hand sanitizers as much as possible.  It is better to simply wash your hands, using strong friction and warm water.
  3. Limit your consumption of conventionally raised meats.  These farming practices are destructive to the environment as well as your own health.
  4. Eat fiber rich foods every day.  This includes, fruits, vegetables  whole grains, beans, and nuts.
  5. Eat lacto-fermented foods every day.  Unsweetened organic yogurt and kefir, lacto-fermented krauts, pickles, kvass and hot sauces, and kombucha are all great sources.
  6. Supplement with a probiotic if you are eating a low-fiber, highly processed diet.

 

While there plenty of “immune-boosting” products and supplements on the market, your best strategy for enhancing immunity is to eat whole foods!