In my last blog, we took a quick look at what your immunity consists of and an overview of how it functions. I also promised you some tangible ways you can support your immune system daily. Let’s take a look at how probiotics and prebiotics influence immunity and get tangible.
The Importance of Your Microbiome
The microbiome is your personal community of microbes (bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses) that live on and inside the human body. The largest majority are found within the gut. Good bacteria found within this community are integral to the proper function of your immune system overall.
Once again, let’s not get bogged down in specifics. We’d be here together for days – or I’d be typing for days and you would run away from this post, bored to tears. Instead, let’s simplify.
Let’s talk about probiotics – the good and helpful bacteria in your microbiome.
How do Probiotics influence immunity in your innate immune system?
Probiotics Support Microbial Diversity
Research has shown us that the more diverse bacteria you were initially exposed to from birth, the stronger your defenses would be later in life. Simply, those of you who were born naturally (not by C-section) and nursed by your Mom, stand to have stronger innate immunity throughout your life. Since 70% of your immune system is located in your gut, that would mean more good bacteria (probiotics) would naturally populate there. If that’s not you, don’t be dismayed. Supplemental probiotics have been shown to support your innate immune system.
Many years ago, I was involved in a project helping people who had cancer and subsequently lost bowel function. I had worked often with stool testing and was just beginning to study microbial diversity. The national lab I used for testing had just introduced a diversity test. I noticed at that time that the patients who suffered with the most intense issues were those with very low microbial diversity (LOMD).
A lightbulb went on in my brain! It’s all about diversity! And interestingly, the research I’ve read since has been on the same track.
Imagine your gut is like a rainforest. There are thousands, if not millions of participants in the rainforest society, each dependent on the other for a pleasant survival. If all of a sudden, the top foliage that decreases the sunlight was gone, the entire rainforest would be entirely different. That is exactly what happens when our natural probiotics are minimized through diet, medicine, dysfunction, or disease.
Probiotics help maintain your intestinal barrier.
The mucosal lining of your intestine is a dynamic barrier with access points called tight junctions. When the lining is healthy, nutrients from your food gain access to your bloodstream, while at the same time pathogens (organisms that can cause disease) and undigested food particles are blocked. You can see how important it is to maintain a healthy lining.
Probiotics communicate in various ways with innate immune cells to strengthen the mucosal lining and maintain the integrity of the tight junctions.
How do Probiotics influence immunity in your adaptive immune system?
Probiotics help create Secretory IGA
Specifically, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium probiotics communicate with the cells in the small intestine to produce the antibody, Secretory IGA. This is the critical first line of defense in the intestine.
Examples of pathogens that Secretory IGA can block from gaining access to the intestinal lining:
- H. pylori
- E. coli
- C. difficile
- Various other pathogenic bacteria
Probiotics communicate beyond the intestine!
Probiotics are required for the extremely complex communications between your gut and brain, your gut and liver, and even your gut and lungs. Whether through direct stimulation of certain cells or via various other chemical interactions, you literally could not exist without probiotics! Check out this research article to get a sense of the elegant complexity of your body’s communication network.
How do prebiotics influence immunity?
Prebiotics feed probiotics
Very simply stated, prebiotics are food for probiotics. Now that you have some appreciation for the pivotal role probiotics play in immunity, I’m sure you recognize that they obviously need to be fed! Increasing the population and diversity of the beneficial microbes supports balance and health in the microbiome.
Interestingly, all probiotics do not eat the same prebiotics. For example, some like potato, some like apple, others flourish on chicory, and on and on. Too much of a single prebiotic can actually reduce diversity. A small amount of a variety of prebiotics is essential.
Prebiotics balance inflammation
Prebiotics also play a role in balancing inflammatory processes in the body. They help increase the anti-inflammatory cytokines (signaling molecules) while reducing the effects of the pro-inflammatory cells.
Bottom line – Probiotics influence immunity bigtime! Prebiotics too~
Tangible, simple tips to support your immune system:
- Increase your vitamin C
- Get adequate sleep
- Make sure you remember your zinc, elderberry, and echinacea
- Get enough vitamin D
- Drink plenty of water and fluids – stay hydrated
- Wash your hands
- Wear your mask in public
- Take Vital Flora Immune Biome Probiotic daily!