While considered mostly a nuisance, the common cold's impact is widespread when you factor in the health care costs and lost wages to sick days. An estimated 1 billion colds occur annually. Adults on average get two to three a year, while kids can get up to six.
This time of the year, I'm often asked what can boost the immune system. Beyond the use of over-the-counter (OTC) products to manage symptoms, popular choices are vitamin C, zinc and Echinacea. While these are not wrong, there are emerging studies that show promise with the use of probiotics.
Probiotics are the good bacteria that keep our gut healthy. Inside each of us is about 100 trillion bacteria (10 times as many cells), most of which reside in the intestinal tract. Though it's best known to support gastrointestinal function, a good 70 percent of our immune system lies within in our digestive tract.
Think of probiotics as our own personal army, which aids in the nourishment and defense of our whole body. When you have an abundance of probiotic bacteria in your gut, it's harder for the pathogenic bacteria that come with a cold or flu to take up residence. When it comes to the cold virus, probiotics surround and neutralize it—and form a barrier along the intestinal lining to keep the virus from passing into the bloodstream. If the virus does enter into the bloodstream, the probiotics can then help to activate the immune response and increase production of specific lymphocytes and leukocytes.
There is strong evidence that probiotics reduce the severity and duration of colds and the flu. Studies looked at the usage of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains for three months. Researchers found that those who took the probiotic supplementation experienced a shorter duration of cold symptoms (less than two days), 34 percent less severe symptoms and a higher quality of life that resulted in fewer sick days from work and school.
Supplementing with a probiotic containing at least 15 billion cultures daily is the easiest way to build up your good bacteria and keep your immune system strong all year long.
Incorporate these other tips into your daily lifestyle.
- Hand wash regularly.
- Get adequate sleep (at least seven to eight hours each night).
- Stay hydrated.
- Eat a diet loaded with fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds and lean meats to provide the necessary vitamins, minerals and fiber your body needs.
- Supplement with a quality multi-vitamin, especially if maintaining a healthy diet is difficult.
- Reduce and manage stress.
Don't let another cold get you down. Best wishes for a healthy winter!
Written by Brandi Grimmer, nutritional consultant, Keystone Nutrition. Brandi completed her certification as a Nutritional Consultant through Natural Healing College and graduated from Michigan State University with a Bachelor's degree in Human Biology. She is a Licensed Pharmacy Technician with over 10 years of experience. Brandi believes that total health is dependent on proper diet, exercise and nutritional supplementation.
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