Category Archives: immunity

Probiotics and Immune Health: Which Strains Are Best for Immunity?

how to boost immunity naturally with probiotics

Can probiotics boost your immune system? The answer, as you’ll learn below, is yes … but there are some caveats.

In this article we’ll review several research studies that have explored the role probiotics play in immunity and reveal what, if any, probiotic strains may help improve your immune health. We’ll also talk about the right foods to eat to boost your immunity and situations in which you should probably avoid probiotics.

Let’s dig in …

The Microbiome, Explained

You have an estimated 40 trillion bacterial cells living inside your body at any given time.

A good chunk of these microorganisms live in your gut and are part of your “microbiome,” the collective community of microbes that reside with you.

The microbiome plays quite the important role in your body, particularly when it comes to immunity …

Scientists have discovered that 70-80 percent of your immune system is controlled by your microbiome.

And your gut microbiome is largely shaped by what you eat and drink, as we’ll explore further below. First, let’s talk probiotics …

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that help keep your body healthy and working well. These good bacteria can provide assistance in a number of interesting ways.

Benefits of Probiotics

Probiotics can help you maintain a healthy balance in your body by:

  • Supporting your immune function and controlling inflammation.
  • Helping your body digest food.
  • Keeping bad bacteria from getting out of control and making you sick.
  • Creating vitamins.
  • Helping support the cells that line your gut to prevent bad bacteria that you may have consumed (through food or drinks) from entering your blood.

Probiotics are commonly used by medical professionals to treat the following conditions:

  • Diarrhea
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • H. pylori (the cause of ulcers)
  • Vaginal infections
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Infection of the GI tract caused by Clostridium difficile
  • Pouchitis (a possible side effect of surgery that removes the colon)
  • Eczema in children

Let’s take a deeper dive into the role probiotics play in your immune health, specifically.

Probiotics and Immune Health: What We Know Based on Current Research Studies

Study #1: Beneficial Effects of Probiotic Consumption on the Immune System

According to this 2019 study published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism medical journal:

Probiotic bacteria have significant effects on the functionality of the mucosal and systemic immune systems through the activation of multiple immune mechanisms.

The researchers in the study discovered that probiotic bacteria induce signals in the intestine that improve the behavior of the immune system and the host’s health. Probiotic bacteria were deemed to be an “effective tool for the maintenance of the intestinal homeostasis and the stimulation of the mucosal immune system.”

Study #2: Prospective Study of Probiotic Supplementation Results in Immune Stimulation and Improvement of Upper Respiratory Infection Rate

In a 2018 double-blind, randomized, controlled trial, researchers found that a 3-strain probiotic supplement was “safe and effective for fighting the common cold and influenza-like respiratory infections by boosting the immune system.”

Probiotics do appear to be somewhat effective in preventing the common cold. More research is needed but early results are promising.

“Probiotics are particularly helpful for maintaining normal bowel function and good digestive health,” says Bruce Eisendorf, M.D., a family medicine doctor at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. “They also keep your immune system strong so you can fight and prevent infection.”

Study #3: Probiotics and Immune Health

A 2011 study found that:

Probiotics showed therapeutic potential for diseases, including several immune response-related diseases, such as allergy, eczema, viral infection, and potentiating vaccination responses.

Which Probiotics Are Best for Immunity?

Here are the strain-specific probiotics that may work for boosting your immune system:

Probiotic StrainImmune System Benefit
Bifidobacterium bifidumReduces cold and flu incidence.
Lactobacillus brevisReduces the incidence of flu.
Lactobacillus GGDecreased risk of upper respiratory infections for children in daycare.
Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum Reduces the risk of colds in school-aged children.
Lactobacillus rhamnosusReduces the incidence of pneumonia in people in the intensive care unit.
B. longum Helps prevent the flu in elderly patients.
Lactobacillus plantarum and Lactobacillus paracaseiReduces the number of days with symptoms and severity of colds.

*Shameless Plug Alert: Our digestive health supplement, Pure Food DIGEST, contains ALL of these probiotic strains!

How to Build a Healthy Immune System By Feeding Your Microbiome the Right Foods

One way to improve the levels of healthy bacteria in your gut without probiotic supplements is to eat more foods these “good bacteria” like to eat—namely, fiber-rich foods.

This means increasing your intake of:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Beans/legumes
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts and seeds

Getting all your fiber from a single source (like a fiber supplement, for example) is not the best way to boost your gut health and immunity.

Your goal should be to eat a variety of fiber-rich foods each day.

Another way to promote a healthy gut and immune system is to eat foods that already contain beneficial bacteria (probiotics).

This includes:

  • Yogurt, kefir, and other cultured dairy products (there are plant-based options available now too).
  • Kim-chi, sauerkraut, and other fermented vegetables.
  • Miso, tempeh, natto, and other fermented soy products.
  • Kombucha (fermented tea).

All of these products are available on grocery store shelves or you can make them yourself, which is actually quite fun. My personal DIY foods: kombucha, preserved lemons, fermented pepper paste, and pickles.

Is it Safe to Take Probiotics When You’re Sick?

Probiotic supplements are generally safe for healthy people.

Studies show that taking probiotics may help you get sick less and reduce the amount of time you’re sick for (in regards to common colds/respiratory infections).

But there are some situations where beneficial bacteria (either from foods or supplements) can cause adverse affects.

Acute illnesses such as pancreatitis, Crohn’s, colitis, and celiac disease can lead to increased intestinal permeability, which is when bacteria penetrate the lining of the gut far enough to cause an inflammatory reaction from your immune cells. If your gut is already inflamed, that can spell trouble.

Those with compromised immune systems, either from a severe illness or due to medical treatment for a disease, are also generally advised to avoid probiotic foods and supplements. Some studies have found that using probiotics in severely ill or immunocompromised individuals can increase the risk of adverse effects such as infections.

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3 Research-backed Ways to Stay Healthy (Even If Everyone Around You Is Sick)

foods to eat to stay healthy

Given the current mass hysteria ensuing, I thought I’d take a minute to share my “secrets” for staying healthy.

After developing an autoimmune disease that caused me to get sick all the time from 2016 – 2018, I have only been sick one time in the past year (a minor cold that went away after two days).

To put that in perspective, my wife is an elementary school teacher and we have a 6-year-old in school and soon-to-be three-year-old who goes to daycare. We have seen our share of germs run through our house (including, but not limited to, croup, bronchitis, the flu, pneumonia, stomach bugs, conjunctivitis, ear infections, sinus infections).

Wanna know how I’ve managed to stay healthy while everyone around me is sick? Hint: it takes more than just washing my hands religiously.

It’s my systems.

Let me explain …

To get better at something (e.g., improve your immunity, sleep, a sport, your business, your finances, etc.), having systems in place is the key to success.

If you want more background on goals vs. systems, read this article from Scott Adams or this one from James Clear.

Mr. Clear says in his excellent book, Atomic Habits: “Goals are good for planning your progress and systems are good for actually making progress.”

Read on to find out my systems that have contributed to my new and improved immune system over the last two years.

Want to Learn How to Improve Your Gut Health Naturally? Download Our FREE Gut Health Guide Here

How Do I Stay Healthy When I’m Surrounded By Sick People?

1. Sleeping. If you struggle with sleep, I can’t stress the importance of creating systems that help you sleep better enough. Sleep loss and disrupted sleep are strongly linked to inflammation. And inflammation makes you more susceptible to illness. I was an insomniac for years. While I still wake up a few times during the night, my sleep quality and consistency has improve exponentially. Scroll down to the bottom of this article to read 10 things I did to build a system that has cured my insomnia.

2. Eating / Supplementing. What you eat has a profound effect on your immune system response. It’s well known the modern Western Diet is one of the worst culprits when it comes to inflammation. If you don’t put the right foods and drinks in your body, you will get sick more often. Period.

The tricky part is finding the “right foods” for you, and then creating systems that’ll help you eat healthy habitually every day (most peoples’ systems do the opposite).

Try getting both allergy and microbiome testing done as a first step. I recommend Viome for the microbiome test … it’s $120 or so. These tests will tell you exactly which foods you should / shouldn’t be eating. As I said in a previous email, personalized nutrition is the future of healthy eating. And the future is here and accessible to all!

My “systems” that help me stay healthy include:

  • foods to eat to stay healthyCooking everyday. I know that if I get takeout or go to a restaurant then I’m usually not going to eat as healthy. So I try to only eat out about once a week and the rest of the days I make time to cook for myself and my family. I schedule time on my calendar from 5-6ish every day to cook dinner and prepare lunches for everyone for the next day.
  • Planning meals ahead of time. Even if you don’t like cooking, you can still create systems that help you eat better by having a plan for meal time. If you don’t have a plan, you’ll likely succumb to the easy way out (which is usually food you know isn’t going to help you stay healthy). It can be as simple as writing down a more nutritious takeout option you’re thinking about for dinner instead of fast food, or as complex as tracking everything you eat (I prefer the former, personally). Be deliberate and specific about what you are/are not going to eat today.
  • Avoiding trigger foods and sticking with foods I know don’t cause an inflammatory response in my body. Again, go see an allergist and get your microbiome tested to see which foods are good/not good for you.
  • Spending most of the grocery budget on perishables. I don’t like wasting food, so I know if I load my shopping cart with fresh fruits and vegetables, I will make sure they get eaten. Minimize the processed, carb-laden snacks in favor of fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds (or smoothies with all of these, ideally!). One of my easiest systems I use is creating a grocery list without junk food on it each week. If it’s not on the list, I don’t buy it.
  • Drinking lots of water. Staying hydrated is one of the keys to immunity. Drinking sugar-sweetened coffees and sodas is not. Also, 1-2 glasses of red wine a night may help with immune response.
  • Taking supplements. These are some of the supplements I take each day that are proven by research to keep your immune system strong:
  1. Probiotics / Digestive Enzymes
  2. Zinc
  3. Magnesium
  4. Krill Oil
  5. French Maritime Pine Bark Extract
  6. Resveratrol
  7. Glucosamine / Chondroitin

3. Exercising. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. It’s well known that our bodies break down as we age. But there’s an easy way to drastically slow that progression: get up and frickin move!

As many of us age we “let ourselves go” and this leads to an endless cycle of injuries and rehab. Exercise is the absolute best way to keep your muscles, bones, and tissues strong. Being sedentary, on the other hand, is one of the worst things you can do for your immunity.

There’s no excuse not to exercise (unless you’re injured and rehabbing an injury). Find something you enjoy doing (walking, golf, tennis, gardening, hiking, biking, swimming, yoga, etc.) and schedule it into your damn calendar every day or every other day. Even 5 minutes makes a difference. Make exercise part of your daily system and you will get sick much less. If you’re still not convinced, check out some of the conclusions from this 2019 research paper:

  • Regular exercise training has an overall anti-inflammatory influence mediated through multiple pathways. Epidemiologic studies consistently show decreased levels of inflammatory biomarkers in adults with higher levels of physical activity and fitness, even after adjustment for potential confounders such as BMI.
  • There is increasing evidence that the circulation surge in cells of the innate immune system with each exercise bout and the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect of exercise training have a summation effect over time in modulating tumorigenesis, atherosclerosis, and other disease processes.
  • Recent studies indicate that exercise and physical fitness diversifies the gut microbiota, but more human research is needed to determine potential linkages to immune function in physically fit individuals and athletes.

Now, the researchers in that study also cautioned that overtraining and stressful competitions can make you more susceptible to getting sick. So it’s important to make time for recovery if you’re exercising hard like I do (stretching, foam rolling, light yoga, percussion and/or massage therapy, chiropractic care, etc.).

Long story short, the best way to stay healthy is to take care of your body (because it’ll take care of you if you do).

Want to Learn How to Improve Your Gut Health Naturally? Download Our FREE Gut Health Guide Here