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Do's and Don'ts—How To Support Your Immune System Via Your Gut

By Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS

In this article:


It’s never a bad time to focus on immune system health. But here’s the very important message I want to share with you: You can take steps to start supporting your immune system health in ways you may have not tried, or even heard about, before.

‌‌‌‌A Healthy Gut is Key for A Healthy Immune System

Do This: Focus on your gut as the center of your immune system (since between 70% and 80% of your immune system is housed in your gut)
Not That: Underestimate and agitate gut health 

The immune system–gut connection is a complex topic, one that researchers are constantly still learning about.

But we know that billions of beneficial bacteria are present within all of us, forming what’s called our “microbiomes.” The microbiome is an internal ecosystem that, generally speaking, benefits us in many ways, including by helping us to absorb nutrients, keeping us healthy overall, regulating our appetite and body weight, and much more.

This “community of microbes” living inside each and every one of us is mostly located inside our digestive system (or gut). And our body’s ability to manufacture and maintain healthy collagen levels plays an important role in maintaining the integrity of our gut lining and, therefore, directly affects overall immune system health.  

So just how much of the immune system is located in the gut? As mentioned, it’s now believed that the gut houses between 70 to 80 percent of all immune cells.

 Amazingly, it’s estimated that within the body there are slightly more microorganisms than there are human cells, mostly concentrated within the GI tract.

We now believe that gut health can contribute to overall health. This is why maintaining the integrity of the gut as well as overall gut health are crucial aspects of health.

‌‌‌‌Make an Effort to Maintain Healthy Collagen Levels

Do This: Avoid the top “collagen killers” for a smart approach on immune-focused gut support. 
Not That: Get poor sleep, eat too much sugar, mismanage stress and eat a nutrient-poor diet.

Many aspects of everyday life can impact the collagen in our gut and throughout our body, including these...

Top Collagen Killers to Avoid:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Too much sugar
  • High cortisol levels from stress
  • Sun overexposure
  • Diet low in antioxidants
  • Sitting all day and lack of activity
  • Nutrient shortfalls of vitamin C and zinc
  • Free radicals

Aside from avoiding these collagen diminishers, it’s also important to focus your immune system support efforts on supporting your gut. 

This includes supplementing with high-quality collagen-containing multiple collagen types from multiple sources and investing in SBO probiotics (soil-based organisms) that require no refrigeration, so are naturally adapted to survive your stomach acid, bile, and body temperature. 

‌‌‌‌Curb Sugar Cravings With Healthy Choices

Do This: Be smart about your sweets
Not That: Load up on processed sugar

Sugar cravings can be hard to tame, but caving into them could have undesirable effects. In fact, while more research needs to be conducted, consuming too much sugar has been said to unfavorably affect your immune system function (at least for a period of time).

When you’re craving something sweet during the autumn and winter months, try this grounding recipe full of antioxidants instead…

Cooked apples and pears are an Ayurvedic staple of the fall and believed to help bridge the seasons, soothing the scattered feelings you may experience this time of year. 

Stewed Apples and Pears Recipe

Serves: 2

Ingredients:

Instructions:

  1. Peel, core, and chop apple and pear into small pieces.
  2. Melt ghee in a small pot or slow cooker on medium heat, then adds spices until they sizzle.
  3. Add fruit and water.
  4. Bring to boil, then drop the heat back to a low simmer.
  5. Cook for about 20 minutes or until fruit is tender.

‌‌‌‌Recommit to a Time-honored Schedule 

Do This: Rebuild your broken schedule 
Not That: Continue living with your days and nights mixed up

A sudden jolt to your schedule can actually tinker with your immune system. Staying up late, spending more time on your devices, and snacking after dinner can threaten your sleep, an important staple of supporting immune system health. 

Here’s how to start getting your sleep back on track…

Establish a Bedtime: Bedtime goals aren’t just for kids! Recommit yourself to a healthy new bedtime. Just don’t start with a drastic change. For instance, if you’ve been staying up until 1 a.m., push your sleep time back at half-hour intervals each week until you’re hitting the sack at your goal time each night. 

Develop a Nightly Routine: Creating a routine bedtime is key for developing deep sleep. That’s where rapid eye movement (REM) occurs, and it’s vital to maintaining normal bodily detox processes and keeping your body in balance.

If you’re having trouble getting enough rest, you may want to try one of these hacks …

  • Drink valerian or chamomile tea before brushing your teeth at bedtime
  • Read a chapter or two of an uplifting book
  • End exposure to all electronics at least 2 hours before bedtime, but know even 30 minutes before bedtime offers some benefits
  • Sip a gut-supporting drink containing magnesium and calming ashwagandha as a night-time snack to facilitate sleep support

‌‌‌‌Support Immune Health with Elderberry

Do This: Supplement with elderberry...
Not That: ...just not the kind laden with hidden added sugars

Other key healthy immune system support supplements I recommend include vitamin C and enzyme-activated zinc.Elderberry is a time-tested herb known throughout generations to generally support immune system health. In fact, evidence of elderberry-based recipes dates back to Ancient Egypt. Through historical documents, we can see that elderberry has been a staple of wellness workers for centuries.

To get the most bang for your buck when supplementing with elderberry, make sure to look for a fermented version that contains no artificial sweeteners, added sugars, or synthetic colorings. 

‌‌‌‌Focus on Immune-Boosting Nutrition

Do This: Build a strong foundation with the right foods, including my #1 recommendation...
Not That: Rely on processed foods that hamper your immune system

Bone Broth Protein

As a clinical nutritionist by training, this is my go-to list of the best foods to maintain good health. And it starts with the #1 recommendation...

I believe bone broth is the No. 1 superfood people should be getting on a daily basis.

And it’s not just because chicken soup is good for the soul. Think about it. When you need a boost, what’s the go-to food in virtually every country? 

From ancient Chinese times to today, the answer is chicken broth, or bone broth, more often than not.

And generally speaking, chicken bone broth is a natural source of compounds that support the gut. We don’t think that’s a coincidence, given that immune system health is tied to gut health.

Let’s take a closer look at what you’ll get in a typical bowl of real bone broth...

Vitamin, Mineral & Antioxidant-Rich Foods

  • Liver
  • Whole Eggs
  • Sockeye Salmon
  • Green Juice
  • Berries 
  • Asparagus
  • Bell peppers
  • Bok choy
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Kale
  • Onions
  • Radishes
  • Pumpkin
  • Squash
  • Watercress
  • Oats
  • Rice
  • Coconut
  • Hemp seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Black beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Kidney beans
  • White beans

Preferred Fats

Fermented Foods & Beverages

Throughout history, fermenting foods gave our ancestors the option of prolonging the freshness of grains, vegetables, and milk that were available to them during different seasons. Today, we know eating fermented, or “cultured,” foods is the most convenient way to obtain beneficial probiotic bacteria.

Here are my go-to fermented food recommendations:

Herbs & Spices

I believe the top two foods missing in the standard American diet are bone broth and herbs and spices. Start sprinkling these into your meals or drinks for an instant antioxidant bump.

Better Sweeteners 

Consider these sweetener alternatives in moderation.

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