by Stephanie Flemming
Think this nice weather means cold and flu season is over? Think again! According the the Centers for Disease Control, flu outbreaks are common until May. The heavy coats and gloves may be gone, but it’s still important to keep your immune system primed.
Our immune system allows us to function in all aspects of life, whether dealing with high levels of stress, trudging across campus, or constantly interacting in tight quarters with classmates and roommates, we rely on our immune system to keep us going and to maintain optimal health. An important factor in maintaining a healthy immune system is what we put into our bodies. Although an overall, balanced diet is key, studies have also shown particular “friendly germs” can do a great deal in boosting our immune system.
Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria our immune system thrives off of. Not only do probiotics act as a protective barrier in our gut, but they also grant beneficial effects by interacting with our body’s own population of bacteria: our microlflora.1
Two probiotic species commonly used in the United States are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.1 While many people think of supplements when they hear the term “probiotics”, foods we eat daily contain these incredible microorganisms.
One food in particular that is rich in probiotics is yogurt. Yogurt contains the beneficial bacteria Lactobacillus reuteri, which blocks the replication of viruses invading your body when you are sick.2 Think of yogurt as providing its own mini army, fighting off sicknesses and viruses for our bodies! Consuming probiotics regularly may reduce common cold symptoms by as much as a third.2 A 2006 study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that a fermented milk drink rich in probiotics (kefir, which is now found in most stores), increased a natural kill cell significant to immune activity a great deal. 3 It’s amazing how one serving can do so much for the human body!
Probiotic-rich dairy products like yogurt and kefir are also great sources of protein, calcium and fortified vitamin D, though read the food label for added sugars – some yogurts may contain as much 2 teaspoons of added sugar per serving! Non-dairy sources of probiotics include fermented sour pickles and sauerkraut (look in the refrigerated section for these), and miso paste, though watch the sodium content on these last three.2
Aside from boosting our immune system, probiotics may promote optimal gastrointestinal health. The lactobaccili bacterium has been shown to help with constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, and diarrhea.4 Moreover, probiotics are associated with a reduced risk of a variety of of diseases and disorders ranging from high blood pressure, lactose intolerance, high cholesterol, kidney stones, and cancer.2 Some probiotics in dairy products, like the Lactobacillus species, have even been associated with better blood sugar and cholesterol regulation among those trying to lose weight.3
Probiotics are in many common foods, and are important to keep your immune system primed. Next time you have an important event coming up, especially with midterms right around the corner, grab a yogurt or find another probiotic-rich food source to keep your immune system in the best possible condition.
- Clauson ER, Crawford P. What you must know before you recommend a probiotic. Journal of Family Practice 2015; 64(3): 151-5.
- The Gale Encyclopedia of Senior Health: A Guide for Seniors and Their Caregivers, Detroit: Gale, 2009, pp. 1496-1501.
- Madjd A, et al. Comparison of the effect of daily consumption of probiotic compared with low-fat conventional yogurt on weight loss in healthy obese women following an energy-restricted diet: a randomized controlled trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2016; 103(2), 323-329. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.120170.
- Palmer, S. Foods that fuel the immune system. Environmental Nutrition 2010, v33 i11 p1(2).