You know the scene.
You arrive at your office bright and early, ready for a productive day of work and just as you begin to settle in, you hear it: the hacking, coughing, sneezing telltale “should have stayed home” noises of a sick coworker, catapulting their germs all. over. the. place.
But before you let thoughts of an impending virus derail your workflow, fear not — it turns out that taking care of your gut can proactively prepare your immune system for the onslaught of winter workplace illnesses.
You see, 80% of your immune system resides in your gut, and the trillions of beneficial bacteria that call your digestive tract home work hard to protect you from harmful microbes and illnesses that tend to spread like wildfire in offices.
So, how does your gut keep you from catching every bug that comes through your office door?
Here’s how it works: your body is home to a vast ecosystem of microbes that make up your microbiome. And of all the bacteria that comprise your microbiome, the majority live in your gut, helping to — among many other important tasks — boost your metabolism, balance your blood sugar, regulate your moods, optimize your digestion, and improve your immune function.
The problem is that various aspects of our modern lifestyle can deplete the beneficial bacteria (called probiotics) naturally found in our gut, opening the door to microbes that can weaken our immune system and leave us susceptible to those pesky viruses circulating around the office.
From stress — yes, including stress at work — and antibiotics to processed foods, antibacterial cleaners, and an overly sedentary lifestyle (treadmill desk, anyone?), the helpful bacteria in our microbiome are under constant threat.
And if we can’t maintain the ideal ratio of 85% good to 15% bad bacteria in our microbiome, our health can really start to diminish — and our immune function may be one of the first bodily systems to falter.
You may be wondering how such tiny bugs can have such a big influence on your body’s ability to stay well, but research shows that beneficial strains of bacteria (aka probiotics) can help keep your immune system in tip top shape so you can ward off those nasty germs.
It’s clear that the beneficial bacteria in your gut play a big role in your immunity, but how exactly do they work their magic?
Probiotics boost your immunity by competing for space with harmful microbes that are trying to settle in and make you sick. Much like a parking lot, there are only so many available spots for organisms to park. If the spaces are all taken up by the good guys, then the bad bacteria can’t get a foothold. Some probiotics also produce antimicrobial proteins that target and destroy threatening microbes before they can do any harm.
Your gut barrier is made up of a single layer of cells that work together with your beneficial bacteria to absorb nutrients from the foods, supplements, and drinks you consume, while also blocking out toxins, antigens, and hostile microbes so they can’t get into your bloodstream and make you sick. Probiotics help to strengthen and close gaps in the intestinal wall, and they produce butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that provides energy for the cells that line the barrier which keeps you feeling your best as you set out to conquer the world at work.
Some strains of friendly bacteria produce enzymes that help you digest and absorb the valuable nutrients from your diet, giving you a nutrient boost that benefits your entire body — including your immune system. Various strains of probiotics also manufacture vitamin K and some of the B vitamins, both of which directly impact your immune function. And the better your immune function works, the better you’ll feel over the long term.
When your immune system senses an acute threat (like a virus), it launches an inflammatory response to fix the damaged tissues and cells. But sometimes inflammation becomes chronic, leading to allergies and autoimmune conditions. This low-grade, chronic inflammation takes a toll on your immune function, making you more vulnerable to everyday immune challenges likes colds and the flu. Fortunately, probiotics can reduce inflammation in your body, keeping your immune system from over or underreacting.
While your gut is the seat of your immune system, your mouth is the gatekeeper and your body’s first line of defense.
Enter the oral microbiome.
It’s the collection of microbes living in your mouth, nose, throat, and ears. You see, the good bacteria in your oral microbiome also work hard to fend off harmful microbes since they guard the entrance whereby all things, good and bad, find their way to the gut.
So, when you inhale your ill coworker’s airborne detritus (or inadvertently hand-deliver germs from the office watercooler directly onto your face), the friendly flora in your mouth and nose have a chance to stop the bad microbes in their tracks before they can settle in.
This is where oral probiotics, which colonize in your oral cavity rather than travel to your gut, perform their health-enhancing functions.
And the research is in — certain strains of oral probiotics pack a real punch when it comes to preventing upper respiratory and ear infections:
Fortifying both your gut and oral microbiomes is the key to staying healthy through all your work days so you can stay productive as you create a life that inspires and empowers you.
Taking care of your microbiome is a multi-pronged approach that replenishes and nourishes your beneficial bacteria, while limiting exposure to anything that depletes your precious probiotics.
We spend nearly 30% of our lives working, hopefully doing something fulfilling that we love, with people we respect and admire. And when we are passionate about work life, we don’t want to miss out on even a second of it, especially due to a miserable illness that leaves us feeling exhausted and drained.
The good news is that taking the time to nurture your microbiome can enable you to put in your best work each and every day, and say goodbye to sick days once and for all.
Originally published at medium.com