During back-to-school season, alarm clocks go off earlier, schedules get busier, and kids spend longer days in close proximity, sharing books, supplies, and, inevitably, germs. With their developing immune systems, all of these ingredients can lead your little ones to get sick.
Recent research has shown that the best way to combat sickness, chronic or otherwise, is through a healthy gut. We’ve asked Chef Pete Evans and Nutritionist Helen Padarin, authors of The Complete Gut Health Cookbook to help us understand this connection between the gut, immunity, and illness.
How can an unhealthy gut weaken your immune system?
The gut and the immune system are intricately intertwined. Consider the fact that the gut is a major gateway of foreign substances into the body. It then becomes understandable that a whopping 80% of our immune system is actually located in the gut lining. An abundance of beneficial bacteria and a series of mechanisms, such as tight-junctions between cells, protect our gut lining.
If the gut lining becomes damaged, or if it is exposed to irritating foods, toxins, or pathogens, it can become “leaky”. The medical term is intestinal hyperpermeability, but it is more commonly known as leaky gut. When the gut is leaky, substances that normally wouldn’t be able to enter the bloodstream are able to enter. This triggers the immune system to respond to the influx of foreign agents, causing an inflammatory cascade to begin. If the exposure is constant, or the permeability is not restored to its appropriate state, this inflammatory process can become chronic.
Dysbiosis, an imbalance of good and opportunistic microbes in the gut, often coincides with intestinal hyperpermeability. Overgrowths of opportunistic bacteria produce a substance called lipopolysaccharide (LPS), which can enter the bloodstream through the leaky gut. This can result in chronic inflammation and a disrupted immune system, leaving some people more susceptible to recurrent or chronic infections, others to atopic conditions like asthma and eczema, and others to autoimmune conditions.
What’s the connection between gut health and the common cold and flu?
With so much research on the microbiota (gut bugs) coming out, most people now know probiotics have a beneficial effect on the digestive system. However, their work does not just stop there. Probiotics have a regulatory role in the immune system, most of which is found in the lining of the gut.
Several strains of probiotics in the gut increase the production of immunoglobulins and specialized immune cells called Natural Killer cells (NK cells) and T Lymphocytes (T cells). These protect us against infection, including the flu and common cold.
How can parents keep their kid’s immune system strong?
The three super foods for great immune function are bone broth, fermented foods, and cod liver oil (or organic liver). The combination of these foods provide a power-packed wealth of minerals, enzymes, probiotics, and vitamins, especially vitamins A, D, and C. These all have antiviral activity and play important roles in immune function.
Fermented foods include things like fermented veggies (think sauerkraut or kim chi), water kefir or coconut water kefir, and coconut yogurt. With fermented veggies, it’s always best to start with a small amount—even just a teaspoon of the juice of the veggies, and slowly increase. Introducing too much too quickly can result in bloating, burping, or excessive flatulence—not particularly socially acceptable!
To help probiotics colonize and stay in the gut, be sure to consume plenty of prebiotics, too. Prebiotics, found in vegetables, are the foods that probiotics (friendly bacteria) like to eat.
With Cod Liver Oil, choose a high-quality brand—you usually get what you pay for—and have about a teaspoon per day (kids and adults, alike).
For bone broth, have anywhere from half a cup to 4 cups a day. Enjoy as a drink on its own, season with salt, pepper, and herbs if desired, or add to cooking.
To learn more about your gut and to get access to 100+ gut healthy recipes, check out The Complete Gut Health Cookbook (Weldon Owen, 2017).
LoveBug Probiotics Colds Suck utilizes strains of bacteria as well as zinc, echinacea, and vitamin C to boost immunity. Check out their full line for women and kids here.)
(starting at $30 for a 30-day supply, amazon.com)
Carlson for Kids Norwegian Cod Liver Oil is bottled from unpolluted Norwegian water and comes in bubble gum flavors.
(starting at $22, amazon.com)
Bonafide Provisions Restorative Chicken Bone Broth is made in small batches from free-range, organic chicken bones and can be added to many recipes to up the nutritional value.
(starting at $34 for a 2-pack, wisechoicemarket.com)