How to Support Your Immune System in Stressful Times
A naturopathic doctor answers all your pressing immunity and gut health questions.
Right now, the world is dealing with an unprecedented global crisis and you may be looking for ways to protect your health and the health of your loved ones. An important aspect of wellbeing is a strong immune system—and developing diverse gut flora is one method for supporting immunity. Dr. Sara Celik, a Renew Life spokesperson and licensed naturopathic doctor in Toronto, explains the gut/immunity connection and shares strategies for a healthier immune system.
Q: I’m super stressed right now. Could it be impacting my immune system?
A: There’s a difference between short-term stress and long-term stress. “Studies show that short-term stress actually helps the immune system,” says Dr. Sara. “However, chronic stress suppresses the immune system and increases the risk of viral infections.” To reduce stress, consider exercising, meditating, journaling, listening to music and finding new ways to laugh whenever you can.
Q: Is it possible to boost the immune system?
A: In short, no. “Boost” is a misleading term. Instead, we want to support and balance the immune system. “Not too long ago, I saw a patient who was constantly getting sick,” says Dr. Sara. “I uncovered that the individual was taking a variety of herbs, which some consider nature’s antibiotics. While they were hoping to ‘boost’ their immune system, they were harming protective gut bacteria. We know antibiotics can disrupt the microbiome.”
Q: How does gut health affect immunity?
A: The gastrointestinal (GI) tract contains 70 percent of the immune system. “Gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) contains 80 percent of specific B cells that make antibodies,” says Dr. Sara. “Think of antibodies as bodyguards. These bodyguards protect you from infection, so they’re very important. They also play a big role in establishing a healthy microbiome.”
Q: How can I preserve my gut health?
A: Dr. Sara suggests enjoying a variety of fibre-rich foods, prebiotics (garlic, onions, leeks, bananas, apples, and flaxseed) and fermented foods and beverages (yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, tempeh, and kombucha). Taking a daily probiotic supplement that contains multiple bacterial strains can provide a higher dose of bacteria. “We’re still in the early stages of understanding the complex world of the microbiome, so diversity is key,” she says. When possible, Dr. Sara also recommends getting out in nature to expose your body to a range of microbes.
Q: Are all probiotics created equal?
A: Not all probiotics are the same. “Think of all the amazing types of dogs out there,” she says. “I grew up with German shepherds. They are much better at police-type jobs than chihuahuas. Even though they’re all dogs, some are better at certain jobs than others.” The same is true for probiotics. Certain strains have been clinically studied and shown to support immune health, including the following:
- Bifidobacterium animals subsp. lactis Bl-04: Shown to reduce the risk of developing an upper respiratory tract infection in physically active and healthy adults.
- Bifidobacterium animals subsp. lactis UABla-12TM: Shown to support respiratory health in children between the ages of 3 and 12.
- Bifidobacterium bifidum R0071: One study showed the reduction of cold-like symptoms in stressed adults.
- Streptococcus salivarius K12 (BLIS K12TM): Clinically shown to reduce the frequency of streptococcal and viral infections in children with a history of recurring oral strep.
Q: Should my kids and I take the same probiotic?
A: Different strains have different benefits, so it’s a good idea to look for products with strains specifically shown to benefit children vs. adults. Look for shelf-stable products (meaning they don’t need to be refrigerated) that have potency guaranteed through expiration.
Q: What else can I do to support my immune system?
A: “The number one thing is sleep,” says Dr. Sara. “Sleep disturbances are likely to have an adverse effect on the immune system. It’s not just about getting seven-to-nine hours of sleep. It’s about quality. Are you asleep between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.? These are the most critical hours of the night when your adrenal glands are repairing.” You can also minimize sugar intake throughout the day, since glucose can impact white blood cells (which destroy bad bacteria and viruses in the body) for up to five hours after eating.
If you’re interested in adding a probiotic to your daily routine—and supporting your gut and immune system in the process—try one of the following:
- For adults: Renew Life Ultimate Flora Critical Care 50 Billion supports intestinal and gastrointestinal health with 12 probiotic strains including Bifidobacterium animals subsp. lactis Bl-04.
- For adults: Renew Life Ultimate Flora Probiotic Plus Immune Support benefits intestinal and gastrointestinal health with five strains including Bifidobacterium bifidum R0071 (shown to reduce the incidence of cold-like symptoms in stressed adults).
- For kids: Renew Life Kids Daily Boost is perfect for kids over three and contains Lactobacillus acidophilus DDS®-1 (for digestive health) and Bifidobacterium animals subsp. lactis UABla-12TM (shown to support respiratory health in children).
- For kids: Renew Life Kids Throat Defense is also ideal for children over three and contains Streptococcus salivarius K12 (BLIS K12TM), which helps support digestive and respiratory tract health.