What does your Gut Health have to do with the Flu?

What does your Gut Health have to do with the Flu?

A lot! About 70% of your immune system resides in your digestive tract (or “gut”). The purpose of the digestive tract is to filter out nutrients and foreign invaders from all of the things we swallow. Whether we like it or not bacteria and viruses accompany the sushi, alcohol, and water we swallow.  A stranger’s sneeze contains 40,000 droplets of saliva which can harbor the flu virus and end up in your mouth (or nose) if you’re talking (or breathing) nearby.  Ew, I know!

Because of these invasions, special immune cells are stationed inside the respiratory and digestive systems waiting to attack any suspicious looking particles. Think of these guys as the “guards at the gate” of the castle – inside the castle being to your blood stream.  Once the guards find an intruder a plan of attack is mounted.  The plan involves alerting another immune cell, the “knight”, who is specifically trained for attacking viruses. Once notified, the knight is able to clone himself into an army of knights that are programmed to attack that unique invader, such as that flu strain. The attack is highly technical and specialized.  That first recognition and signal occurs in your mucus membranes – the gut and sinuses.

Since we’ve all had the flu we know that the attack plan can be thwarted.  Certain foods can halt the attack and other foods can give it more ferocity.

My #1 Flu Fighter Tip:

Find some peace and calm in your day, every day.

The hormones secreted during stress directly reduce the ability of your immune system to attack invaders like the flu. With constant life stressors like traffic, deadlines, financial worries, and an endlessly busy schedule, your stress hormones remain elevated and impact your health.  Stress:

  • Reduces the number of the guards at the gate, so no one is protecting the castle
  • Hinders the guards communication to the knight
  • Decreases the number, function and training of the army of knights

Counter this by finding your “pause” button daily.  A walk with your dog, laughing and playing with your kids, a yoga class, 5 minutes of mediation (yes, just 5 minutes can make a difference), a peaceful bath with lavender oil, a bike ride….  This can be anything that you enjoy, just do it daily.

Try this simple breathing exercise:

  1. Set a timer in your phone for 2-3 times per day
  2. When the timer goes off, stop what you’re doing and breathe
  3. Breathe in for a count of 5 while pushing your belly out
  4. Pause for a count of 3
  5. Breathe out for a count of 5 allowing your belly to fall
  6. Repeat 3 times
  7. Continue with your day

Breathing can be done anywhere, anytime.  It resets your nervous system into its relaxed mode and out of the stress mode.  This can do wonders for reducing cortisol and helping your immune system. So much comes back to stress, so its a good starting place.  You can be eating all the perfect foods but if you’re stressed every day you’re using up those good nutrients for the stress response rather than powering your body and health.

I also recommend adaptogenic herbs to help you better adapt to daily stressors.  Adaptogens are a classification of herbs that do just as their name implies – adapt.  If you’re stressed and feeling tired, they increase energy and motivation.  If you’re stressed and feeling wired, they help bring calm. Gaia Herbs Stress Response is an effective blend.

Cheers to your good health this winter!



Disclaimer: Nutrition therapy is not intended as a diagnosis, treatment, prescription, or cure for any disease, or as a substitute for medical care. Jen Marshall and Stacy St Germain are not licensed medical providers. Nutrition plans are not intended as a substitution for traditional medical care, nor should be interpreted as medical advice, but instead is an adjunctive and supportive therapy.