Here’s How to (Actually) Stay Well For the Rest of Winter
Hint: It’s all about the health of your gut.
You know the scene.
You arrive at your office bright and early, ready for a productive day of work and just as you begin to settle in, you hear it: the hacking, coughing, sneezing telltale “should have stayed home” noises of a sick coworker, catapulting their germs all. over. the. place.
But before you let thoughts of an impending virus derail your workflow, fear not — it turns out that taking care of your gut can proactively prepare your immune system for the onslaught of winter workplace illnesses.
You see, 80% of your immune system resides in your gut, and the trillions of beneficial bacteria that call your digestive tract home work hard to protect you from harmful microbes and illnesses that tend to spread like wildfire in offices.
Introducing…Your Miraculous Microbiome
So, how does your gut keep you from catching every bug that comes through your office door?
Here’s how it works: your body is home to a vast ecosystem of microbes that make up your microbiome. And of all the bacteria that comprise your microbiome, the majority live in your gut, helping to — among many other important tasks — boost your metabolism, balance your blood sugar, regulate your moods, optimize your digestion, and improve your immune function.
The problem is that various aspects of our modern lifestyle can deplete the beneficial bacteria (called probiotics) naturally found in our gut, opening the door to microbes that can weaken our immune system and leave us susceptible to those pesky viruses circulating around the office.
From stress — yes, including stress at work — and antibiotics to processed foods, antibacterial cleaners, and an overly sedentary lifestyle (treadmill desk, anyone?), the helpful bacteria in our microbiome are under constant threat.
And if we can’t maintain the ideal ratio of 85% good to 15% bad bacteria in our microbiome, our health can really start to diminish — and our immune function may be one of the first bodily systems to falter.
How Friendly Flora Keep You Healthy
You may be wondering how such tiny bugs can have such a big influence on your body’s ability to stay well, but research shows that beneficial strains of bacteria (aka probiotics) can help keep your immune system in tip top shape so you can ward off those nasty germs.
- Four weeks of probiotic supplementation significantly reduced both the number and duration of upper respiratory and gastrointestinal infections in a study of thirty athletes.
- Supplementation with two Lactobacillus strains for 12 weeks reduced common cold incidence by 12% and duration by two and a half days in a study 272 subjects.
- In a study of 326 children, those given a twice daily multi-strain probiotic supplement from November through May experienced a 72% reduction in fevers, 59% fewer runny noses, and a 62% reduction in coughs!
It’s clear that the beneficial bacteria in your gut play a big role in your immunity, but how exactly do they work their magic?
Crowding out and killing the bad guys.
Probiotics boost your immunity by competing for space with harmful microbes that are trying to settle in and make you sick. Much like a parking lot, there are only so many available spots for organisms to park. If the spaces are all taken up by the good guys, then the bad bacteria can’t get a foothold. Some probiotics also produce antimicrobial proteins that target and destroy threatening microbes before they can do any harm.
Reinforcing your gut barrier.
Your gut barrier is made up of a single layer of cells that work together with your beneficial bacteria to absorb nutrients from the foods, supplements, and drinks you consume, while also blocking out toxins, antigens, and hostile microbes so they can’t get into your bloodstream and make you sick. Probiotics help to strengthen and close gaps in the intestinal wall, and they produce butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that provides energy for the cells that line the barrier which keeps you feeling your best as you set out to conquer the world at work.
Producing vitamins and enzymes.
Some strains of friendly bacteria produce enzymes that help you digest and absorb the valuable nutrients from your diet, giving you a nutrient boost that benefits your entire body — including your immune system. Various strains of probiotics also manufacture vitamin K and some of the B vitamins, both of which directly impact your immune function. And the better your immune function works, the better you’ll feel over the long term.
When your immune system senses an acute threat (like a virus), it launches an inflammatory response to fix the damaged tissues and cells. But sometimes inflammation becomes chronic, leading to allergies and autoimmune conditions. This low-grade, chronic inflammation takes a toll on your immune function, making you more vulnerable to everyday immune challenges likes colds and the flu. Fortunately, probiotics can reduce inflammation in your body, keeping your immune system from over or underreacting.
Your Oral Microbiome Matters, Too!
While your gut is the seat of your immune system, your mouth is the gatekeeper and your body’s first line of defense.
Enter the oral microbiome.
It’s the collection of microbes living in your mouth, nose, throat, and ears. You see, the good bacteria in your oral microbiome also work hard to fend off harmful microbes since they guard the entrance whereby all things, good and bad, find their way to the gut.
So, when you inhale your ill coworker’s airborne detritus (or inadvertently hand-deliver germs from the office watercooler directly onto your face), the friendly flora in your mouth and nose have a chance to stop the bad microbes in their tracks before they can settle in.
This is where oral probiotics, which colonize in your oral cavity rather than travel to your gut, perform their health-enhancing functions.
And the research is in — certain strains of oral probiotics pack a real punch when it comes to preventing upper respiratory and ear infections:
- Forty-eight children who took the probiotic Streptococcus salivarius K12 (BLIS K12) each day for 90 days experienced a 90% reduction in Strep throat illnesses in the nine months following treatment, as well as 87% less flu occurrences, a 100% reduction in ear infections, 90% fewer sore throats, and 89% fewer runny noses!
- Lactobacillus sakei, another oral probiotic, protects against sinus infections in people suffering from a lack of bacterial diversity and an overabundance of pathogenic bacteria in the sinuses.
Fortifying both your gut and oral microbiomes is the key to staying healthy through all your work days so you can stay productive as you create a life that inspires and empowers you.
How to Nourish Your Microbiome for Long-Term Wellness and Productivity
Taking care of your microbiome is a multi-pronged approach that replenishes and nourishes your beneficial bacteria, while limiting exposure to anything that depletes your precious probiotics.
Follow these simple steps for a happy gut and a healthy, productive life:
- Take a multi-strain, daily probiotic supplement to provide your microbiome with all the good guys it needs to balance your immune system and keep you well. You’ll see the most benefit if you combine a formula intended for your gut (just make sure it’s formulated with specific technology to survive harsh stomach acids) with a chewable probiotic that colonizes your oral microbiome. Look for an oral probiotic with the BLIS K12, BLIS M18, and Lactobacillus sakei strains for maximum upper respiratory support.
- Focus on a diet rich in whole and plant-based foods, many of which — in addition to being immune-boosting nutrient powerhouses — are excellent sources of prebiotic fibers that feed and nourish the good bacteria in your gut. Apples, asparagus, oats, bananas, and honey all pack a prebiotic bunch, but a prebiotic powder supplement can also give your friendly flora just what they need to thrive.
- Keep work stress in check by taking time each day (especially during your most hectic work hours) to decompress. A few deep breaths, a brisk walk, some desk yoga, or a midday meditation can keep microbiome-depleting stress at bay. Making sure to stay active both at work and during your free time can also be a great stress buster — and physical activity encourages a healthy, diverse microbiome.
- Try your best to stay away from things that threaten your beneficial bacteria, like sugary foods, overzealous hygiene habits, unnecessary medication (such as NSAIDs, antibiotics, and hormone replacers), and pesticides. You’re working so hard to replenish all the good guys — you don’t want to simultaneously dwindle their numbers by not pursuing a gut-healthy life.
We spend nearly 30% of our lives working, hopefully doing something fulfilling that we love, with people we respect and admire. And when we are passionate about work life, we don’t want to miss out on even a second of it, especially due to a miserable illness that leaves us feeling exhausted and drained.
The good news is that taking the time to nurture your microbiome can enable you to put in your best work each and every day, and say goodbye to sick days once and for all.