I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about where we go from here with COVID-19.
As the world starts to get back to work and more normal activity levels resume, I think we should expect cases to spike. We can only hope that enough people will take precautionary measures to not jump from the frying pan into the fire… which essentially could land us right back where we started.
Although there has been much news about vaccines and potential treatments, we are not there yet. And many experts are warning that vaccines can take years to develop, establish safety and produce.
Plus, over 7 billion vaccines would be needed to inoculate the world population. And then you have to trust that people will willingly submit to be vaccinated.
So many questions… so few answers
By the time we have solid answers about a vaccine, millions more people worldwide will have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Will they be ready? Will their immune responses rise to the occasion and do the job they were designed to do?
Or will their immune systems over-respond and send all their soldiers in at once? This relentless attack, known as the cytokine storm, appears to be causing the very worst outcomes in coronavirus patients.
A team of scientists in Berlin say that your immune response could be completely and totally dependent on the health of your gut microbiome.
Immune system basics
In order to better understand why your gut microbiome is important in keeping your immune system strong and healthy enough to fight off infections, here’s a crash course in how it works…
You’re born with what’s called your “innate immune system.” Part of that system is your “conventional dendritic cells” or cDCs. These cDCs carry a range of pattern-recognition receptors, which allow them to quickly detect invading pathogens — like coronavirus.
Once they detect an invader, these cells release cytokines, signaling proteins that attract immune cells to the site of the infection and then engulf and digest it, kind of like how Pac Man chows down on all of those dots and power pellets in the popular 1980s video game.
And that’s when your immune response really levels up…
When those cDCs are good and full from their big meal of invading bacteria or viruses, antigens form on their surface which activates the T cells of your immune system and turns a full response into a targeted strike to wipe out the invader.
So, if everything goes right, the pathogen that could make you sick or even kill you is destroyed and you recover and carry on with your life.
Your gut microbiome and your ability to respond to viruses and bacteria
Of course, not everything goes right all the time. That’s where the results of that new study come in…
The research proved without a doubt that in order for those cDCs to start the cascade that leads to defeating the pathogens making you ill, they need to receive regular signals from your microbiome before those germs start their invasion!
According to the team in Berlin, your gut microbiome controls your immune system’s fitness. It exerts this control by bringing the immune system to a state of readiness in order to speed up its response to pathogens.
Without a healthy microbiome, your cDCs effectively lack the fuel needed to respond to pathogens of any kind — viral or bacterial.
Getting gut healthy
If you want to be ready to defeat the bugs and crud going around, you have to do more than take vitamins and minerals to boost your immune system. You have to get gut healthy so your immune system can kick into gear.
Luckily, getting gut healthy can be both natural and easy to do.
#1 — Eat fermented foods
Studies have shown that eating fermented foods such as kimchi and yogurt can help beneficially modulate the population of bacteria in your gut and enhance the health of your microbiome. Other fermented food and drinks to consider include:
#2 — Focus on fiber and probiotics
Those fermented foods are so good for you because of the potent amount of probiotics they provide. This means that taking a probiotic supplement could provide big benefits as well.
#3 — Go for diversity
While we all have favorite foods, it’s also important to get out of your comfort zone and eat a wide range of different types of foods.
Studies have shown that a diverse diet leads to a diverse microbiome… and that a diverse microbiome is a healthy microbiome.
#4 — Add in prebiotics
Prebiotics are compounds that encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut. Great sources of prebiotics include:
- Jerusalem artichokes
#5 — Pump up the polyphenols
Polyphenols are not only good for your gut microbiome, but they’re also good for your whole body!
They’ve been linked to better blood pressure and cholesterol, balanced inflammation and lower levels of oxidative stress. And they’re able to make their way to your intestines where they’re digested by the bacteria in your gut. Sources of polyphenols to include in your diet are:
- Grape skins
- Green tea
- Red wine
Remember, gut health is immune health. Starting today, give yourself a swift kick in the gut… so your immune system is ready for action when you need it most.