Why Your Gut Health Could Determine Your Flu Risk

A naturopathic doctor gives all the deets.

ProbioticsPhoto Credit: Shutterstock

What your gut health has to do with immunity

“A healthy gut is the foundation to overall health,” says Sara Celik, a naturopathic doctor and spokesperson for Renew Life. Meaning: If you want to have a healthy immune system and live a vibrant life with good energy, it all starts with your gut. To really understand this idea, Celik reflects on her 13 years of clinical practice. “I’ve never met a patient that has a wonderful healthy life but doesn’t have a healthy gut,” she says, noting that the two really do go hand-in-hand.

As I sat beside Celik, on an earthy-green velvet dining bench at Rosalinda, Toronto’s highly-favoured (and not-to-mention Instagrammable) vegan Mexican restaurant, I couldn’t help but ask for her take on our growing interest in gut health. “I think that people are really quite knowledgeable now; they’re learning more and taking their health into their own hands,” she says. “Whereas, for a long time, we left it up to others — and now, the responsibility is on us if we want to live a healthy life.” Most of all, she believes this growth is truly driven by us, the consumers, who are going into restaurants and asking for options to modify the menu. “It has really helped restaurant owners become aware of this need for healthier and simpler food,” she adds.

Heading into cold and flu season, it’s not only beneficial to be knowledgeable on the quality of the food you’re eating but also how to keep that microbiome of yours in tip-top shape. Here, Celik reveals a few tips to help improve your gut health this winter.

Bring on the probiotics.

For Celik, probiotics are a definite daily gut-health essential to reduce your susceptibility to cold- and flu-like symptoms. Why? “Because with 70 percent of our immune system in our gut, really the majority of our focus to boost our immunity needs to actually be on the gut,” she says. Probiotic supplements provide specific live strains of beneficial bacteria to the host (you) when ingested, and it’s important to recognize that diversity is the key to a healthy gut. That means, “because these bacteria are so viable and can easily be destroyed by things like stress, poor nutrition and antibiotics, we need to make sure we are getting those beneficial bacteria in our body through a daily probiotic supplement as well as fermented foods,” she says. (For the ultimate probiotic powerhouse drink, check out this DIY kombucha recipe.)

Celik also brings to light the power of prebiotics (nourishing foods like artichokes, bananas, chicory root, garlic and onions, etc.). “We need to make sure we have prebiotics in our diet because if we don’t feed the bacteria, they will starve — and prebiotics are food or fuel for those beneficial bacteria,” she says. The takeaway? If you want to keep the beneficial bacteria thriving in your intestines, you need to feed them. “And that’s where prebiotics really play a big role,” adds Celik. Consider taking Renew Life Ultimate Flora Critical Care 50 Billion probiotics, which contain 10 unique strains of bacteria. These probiotics, and a diet rich in fermented and prebiotic foods, are the diversity you’re looking for to retain a healthy gut.

Think: plant-based dishes.

“Besides offering fibre and nutrients, plant-based foods are really easy to digest,” says Celik, meaning you’re less likely to have bloating or feel heavy and sluggish. Plus, they help to improve your digestion by bulking up your stool. “By doing so, this helps reduce the toxins in your body, therefore increasing your absorption of vitamins,” she explains. Ideally, by making this dietary change, you will absorb nutrients from these plant-based foods much better.

Make small changes.

It’s simple: rather than overwhelming yourself and trying to change your gut health all at once, Celik suggests starting with either a daily probiotic or adding in one fermented food per day. “Just pick one way to make your gut healthier — and the following week maybe introduce another way, and the following week another way,” she says. “Then you’ve done three things in three weeks to improve your gut health, but you didn’t change everything overnight.” This is definitely the easiest way to get started.

Next, read up on some more tips for strengthening your gut bacteria.