Believe it or not, we all have TRILLIONS (with a TR) of bugs living on and in our bodies! There are good bugs, and there are bad bugs. The good bugs, also known as micro-flora, are tiny micro-organisms found primarily on our skin and throughout our digestive tract, especially the colon! These microscopic organisms are vital to our overall health, but especially our immune system. It is believed that 60-70% of our immune system is controlled by these bugs in the digestive tract.
One of the primary jobs of these good bugs is to keep the bad bugs that live in our bodies under control. They also help fight off other bugs, that I call ugly bugs, that invade our bodies and can make us really sick. I call these invaders “ugly bugs” because when they attack, for at least a few days they can make the most beautiful person in the world look ugly. The bad bugs that live within us are normally kept in check by the good bugs, and if we have an adequate supply of these good bugs in our system, they will be able to destroy the bad and ugly bugs before they can do any major damage to our bodies. I recall several years ago that a cousin of mine was going on a mission trip to Africa. I told him before leaving that he needed to start taking probiotic supplements to increase the stores of good bacteria in his gut. He followed my recommendations and started taking them a couple of weeks before departing and continued taking them while he was in Africa. Upon his return home, one of the many stories he shared was particularly interesting to me. He told us that one night everybody on the mission trip became violently ill, vomiting and having diarrhea all night long. Everybody except him that is! He was the only one that did not get sick. Was it the probiotics or good bugs that made the difference? I think so, and so does he!
There are numerous things in our lives that can destroy the good bacteria in and on our bodies. Antibiotics, antibacterials, anti-inflammatories, and antacid/ulcer medication. These are all medications that people consume on a regular basis that destroy the good bacteria. They are also destroyed by stress and by processed foods, two other things that are abundant in our society today! Some of the bad bugs that live within our body feed on these sugary and processed foods as well.
With the stress of the holidays, all the sugary foods at our family gatherings, and hugs and kisses from relatives we haven’t seen in a while, our risk for contracting these bad bugs greatly increases. I know that you want to stay as healthy as you possibly can during the holidays, and I believe that you can increase your chances of that while decreasing your risk of getting sick by following these seven recommendations to help strengthen your overall immune system. As I said these good bugs are responsible for 60-70% of our immune health.
Increase the foods in your diet that contain the good bugs – The foods I’m speaking of are fermented foods, such as yogurt and keifer and tofu. Just be sure you stay away from the fat free and sugar free varieties of these foods. Sauerkraut is another good fermented food, while Kombucha teas are a great fermented drink that does an excellent job supplying and restoring good bacteria to our bodies. If you don’t eat these foods or are unable to get these foods, then my recommendation would be to make sure you take probiotic supplements instead. Throughout the colder winter months it wouldn’t be a bad idea to take probiotics regardless of your natural intake.
Cut the sugar as much as possible – As I said before, some of the bad bugs that live within our body, such as yeast, feed on sugar. I know this is more difficult to do during the holidays, but cut back as much as you possibly can.
Manage the stress – Don’t let the stress of the holidays control you. You control it! Take the time each day to destress by walking, running, meditating, yoga, lifting weights, deep breathing, or whatever healthy activity calms you down.
Get good sleep – Your body needs rest and time to restore the good bugs in your system. A good night’s sleep can make a world of difference in your immune health.
Take your vitamins – As I said earlier, the processed foods that we eat also help destroy the good bacteria in our bodies and they are almost void of the nutrients that our body needs for a healthy immune system. There are many many nutrients found in food that help support our immune system, and when we eat food that doesn’t contain any of these, we compromise our immune system. By taking vitamin and mineral supplements we get the nutrients we need to protect us during the winter months. The most important one you need during the winter months is vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin! With shorter days and less opportunities to get out in the sun, supplementation with vitamin D can be very helpful.
Do not neglect exercise – I know with the business of the holidays our exercise routine is one of the first things to go. Recent studies show that people who exercise regularly are less likely to catch a cold. This falls in line with other studies that show regular exercise greatly increases immune system health!
Support your thymus gland – The Thymus gland is a small gland that sits in the top of your chest wall and is the master gland of the immune system. This gland produces T-cells that fight off invaders in our body, especially viruses. The six previous steps can help support the thymus gland, but there are also thymus supplements available that can give you that extra immune system boost during the winter months.
If you have any other questions about immune health please contact me by emailing [email protected] or clicking on the “Ask Dr. Phil” microphone!
Healthy Blessings and Happy Holidays,
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