Can your gut microbiota protect you from serious disease?

And yes, I am including our current pandemic of Covid 19 in that question.

While we still learning daily about Covid 19, one of the most interesting things is that some people are completely asymptomatic, while others display grave symptoms very quickly. And there is much investigation to identify who is at risk and how to better protect them.

Age seems to be a factor, as do co-morbidities (previous health conditions) such as heart disease or diabetes.

But what about your gut health? Can that predict the severity of your reaction? These two studies suggest that it might.

The Gut Lung Axis

There has been some interesting research suggesting that an unhealthy gut microbiome can increase the risk and severity of lung disease

With Covid 19’s impact on the respiratory system this previous research is worth reviewing.

Huge amounts of our body’s immune system is around the gut and intestines. Masses of your lymphatic system focuses on it. The health of your gut has a HUGE impact on the health of your immune system and how well your body responds to disease.

Cytokine Storm

“good” gut microbes help to reduce inflammation throughout the body. Not having enough of these could be a factor in inducing cytokine storms – where an excessive amount of inflammation triggering proteins called cytokines are released resulting in hyperinflammation.

In effect your immune system is working too hard and gets out of control, killing too many cells to try and prevent the spread of the problem. This can happen in a number of illnesses, not just Covid 19 but also flu and some autoimmune conditions.

What is the gut microbiome?

The ‘gut microbiome’ is the scientific name for the 1.5kg (2-3 lb) of microbes that live in our intestines. This is a mix of good and less good bacteria that helps us digest our food and regulate our immune system and our response to pathogens.

There has been a lot of research recently into the gut microbiome, most of it very early, but all of it hinting at a very powerful resource with an impact on huge amounts of our general health.

One thing that we do seem fairly sure of is that a health microbiome should be diverse, with lots of different types of bacteria. But strangely, our modern diet seems to limit the variety of gut bacteria rather than encourage it. Perhaps our diets aren’t as varied as we think?

Anti-biotics also seem to limit and negatively affect the microbiome. Although the use of probiotics before and after taking them does seem to make a difference.

Side note – the little yogurt drinks in the supermarket aren’t strong enough to make any difference, even though they taste delicious!

Lancet Study

Healthy Biome – less reaction?

recent study (currently unpublished so be wary!) of Covid 19 patients

seems to suggest that those with a healthier, more diverse microbiome had a less severe response, while those with a more limited gut microbiome had worse symptoms.

So, as we are spending more time out and about in greater contact with others, perhaps a greater focus on your gut health might help to keep you and your immune system in better shape.

So here are Lisa’s top tips for improving your gut microbiome:

  1. Eat real fats – olive oil, salmon and other oily fish, avocado, nuts and seeds.
  2. Plenty of protein – that oily fish again as well as other seafood, chicken, beans, eggs, tofu, pulses and nuts.
  3. Reduce processed meats – ham, sausages, bacon and salami – high levels of salt and nitrates don’t help gut bacteria
  4. Lots of dark green and coloured vegetables – these are high in fibre which your gut bacteria loves. Try and eat a wide variety over the course of a week – your guts will love it
  5. Swap pasta and rice for wholegrains such as quinoa, buckwheat and pulses which are rich in fibre. Take a leaf out of our Scandinavian friends book and try some rye bread. And go fully Spanish with some lentils and chickpeas! If you’re new to beans and pulses try soaking these overnight to help remove anti-nutrients such as lectins and phytates making them easier to cook but more importantly much easier to digest (less gas too!). 
  6. Cut back on sugary snacks – and that includes fruit! Try and stick to mealtimes and have fruit after your meal so help with the blood sugar spikes. Focus on all the berries as these are lower in fructose (fruit sugar). Or add a few nuts to help balance blood sugar.
  7. Try more herbal teas! In fact try any kind of tea – it’s a great way to hydrate! But just check the caffeine – some tea can have almost as much as coffee
  8. Less alcohol – sadly gut bacteria would prefer you stick to the odd glass of wine with a meal instead. Beer I’m afraid to say, is the devils brew when it comes to gut health. Who can say they don’t feel bloated after beer??

Want to see how healthy your digestion is? Try this fun quiz