If there is anything the pandemic has taught us, other than the best strategies for hoarding toilet paper, it brought an awareness of our own vulnerability. We are not invincible. In fact, quite the opposite. Many people suffered serious complications and others succumbed to this new and deadly disease that took everyone by surprise.
Research has shown that COVID elicits an extreme inflammatory response in some people referred to as a cytokine storm. When the immune system overreacts in this way, it can cause widespread damage to all parts of the body. It is this over reaction of the immune system that causes death in people with severe cases of COVID.
Predictably, there has been extensive research to understand why the virus wreaks havoc in some people and others only have negligible symptoms. What have we learned? People who have existing chronic health conditions are overwhelmingly at risk for complications from COVID. Those who are obese, diabetic, or have existing heart or lung conditions, are most at risk for developing problems or a deadly outcome. These disorders are 4 of the most common chronic conditions in the US. What is the common denominator in these chronic diseases? Diet and lifestyle. Almost all chronic disease is related to poor diet and lack of exercise, and they can be prevented with a healthy diet and a less sedentary daily routine.
So what does diet and lifestyle have to do with our gut microbiome? EVERYTHING! Our gut is located in the center of our body for a reason. Everything goes through the gut for processing before being sent to all the other organs of the body. In addition, 70% of our immunity is in our gut. What is the crucial component that maintains a healthy gut lining, digests our nutrients, fights incoming invaders (including COVID), activates our hormones and sends messages to our brain to process the continual flow of information that bombards us on a daily basis? The human microbiome. All those microscopic creatures residing in our gut.
How do we nurture this precious symbiotic relationship that keeps us alive, functioning, and healthy?
- Eat lots of fiber!
Fruits and cruciferous veggies are the spice of life to all those little creatures living in our gut. Your fridge should always be stocked with the likes of apples, bananas, pineapples, berries, kale, cauliflower, asparagus, and broccoli, for starters.
- Add fermented foods to your daily diet.
Kimchi and sauerkraut are excellent prebiotic foods with live bacteria. Make sure to buy the sauerkraut from the refrigerated section to preserve the live bacteria. Yogurt is not the best choice for live bacteria because it has been pasteurized, and kombucha has added sugars, which means extra calories.
- Eat real food.
In other words, eat food that comes out of the ground or picked from a tree. The fresher the produce, the higher the nutrient levels. Avoid factory foods, because they are inundated with additives, aka chemicals and GMO’s.
- Decrease meat and dairy consumption.
Livestock are treated with antibiotics which can decrease the diversity of our microbiome. When you eat less meat and dairy there is more room for plants.
- Cut back on sugar.
Sugar feeds the bad gut bacteria and creates an unhealthy imbalance in our microbes. Switch to honey, but only in moderation. It is unprocessed and it doesn’t spike your blood sugar.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
It keeps your skin and mucous membranes intact to fight off infections, and it flushes toxins out of your body. Drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water. If you weigh 150 pounds, drink 75 ounces of water.
- Don’t be a sofa spud.
Don’t be a mouse potato, either. Get moving and be active. Try a new exercise class, join a local sports team, take a hike, ride a bike, or just take a walk around the block, for crying out loud.
- Unwind, relax, breathe easy!
Do what you like. Hang out with people who make you feel good. Focus on your breath. Meditate. If something is not working, leave it behind and move on.
- Remember your beauty sleep.
You need 7 – 9 hours of sleep every night to look and feel your best and keep your immune system ready to fight off invaders.
- Go hug trees.
Enjoy nature. It calms your busy mind, lowers your blood pressure and heart rate, decreases anxiety, and increases feelings of well-being and happiness. Furthermore, sunlight provides essential Vitamin D, which plays a key role in boosting our immune system. Don’t forget – turn off that cell phone.
This is just a brief overview of the Anti-Viral Gut Plan outlined in the latest book by gastroenterologist, Robynne Chutkan. For an in-depth guide to changing your life and changing your gut, read The Anti-Viral Gut. It may help you survive the next pandemic.
Chutkan, Robynne. (2022). The Anti-Viral Gut: Tackling pathogens from the inside out. New York: Penguin Random House