When fall and winter come around, the flu likes to steal the show. It’s called the “flu season” for a reason! And while the virus exists all year round, October is its time to shine.1 Don’t be so quick to grab those vitamin C supplements to support your immune system, though. Focusing on a specific gut bacteria is a smarter choice.
Every year, 5 to 20 percent of Americans get the flu. Possible symptoms include body aches, sore muscles, chills, fever, headache, sore throat, or coughing. Often, symptoms come on quickly.
It’s also super contagious. The viruses spread through the air, so catching it is really easy. Fortunately, most people can beat the flu with lots of rest, but, who wants to deal with the flu and be home all week?2 To lower your risk, focus on your immune system’s first line of defense: the gut.
How Gut Bacteria Controls Immunity
Trillions of bacteria live in your gut. They outnumber cells by 10 to 1, making up 1 to 3 percent of your body’s mass. In a 200-pound adult, this is equal to 2 to 6 pounds of bacteria.3
The gut is also home to nearly 70 percent of your immune system. In other words, gut bacteria are like your bodyguards. They’re the first to notice (and respond) to pathogens like bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites.4
When your gut is healthy, so are you.
Gut Bacteria And The Flu
In a 2017 animal study in the journal Science, researchers found that a specific microbe might ward off the flu. Clostridium orbiscindens – a type of gut bacterium – can break down plant chemicals called flavonoids. The process makes desaminotyrosin, a metabolite known as DAT.
But, DAT isn’t just a by-product. When DAT enters the bloodstream, it enhances the function of immune-boosting proteins called interferons. This helps phagocytic cells do a better job at “eating” harmful microbes.
Yes, that includes the flu virus! Phagocytic cells can ingest bacteria, viruses, and dangerous particles. In this case, interferons boost the antiviral properties of phagocytes.5
Foods To Help Prevent The Flu
Clostridium orbiscindens can’t do it alone. In order to make DAT, it needs flavonoids to break down. Give it “fuel” by eating these flavonoid-rich foods.
1. Citrus Fruits
Oranges are known as the vitamin C powerhouse. But, don’t forget about other citrus fruits! Apart from oranges, limes and lemons are rich in flavonoids. Grapefruit has even more vitamin C than oranges do.6
Berries are some of the highest sources of antioxidants. This includes flavonoids, which are abundant in berries like red bilberries, raspberries, Goji berries, and blackberries.7
Of all the berries, elderberries deserve their own section. Drink elderberry tea or juice for flu protection.8 At health food stores, you can also find elderberry syrup.
4. Dark Chocolate
Treat yourself (and gut bacteria) to dark chocolate. It’s teeming with flavonoids, so you can be sure that phagocytes will flourish.9 Just be sure to buy dark chocolate that doesn’t have added sugar.
5. Red Cabbage
Cabbage isn’t for everyone, but red cabbage may save you from the flu season.10 Toss it in salads, wraps, or
pasta. Turn it into coleslaw for a flavonoid-rich side dish.
Chickpeas are surprisingly high in flavonoids. Compared to blackberries, they have almost three times as much.11 Better yet, chickpeas are excellent lean sources of protein.
When it comes to flavonoids, black and green tea are neck to neck. Enjoy a hot cup of black or green tea for anti-viral benefits. Already have the flu? Drink up for hydration, antioxidants, and comfort.
For a greater flavonoid boost, add fresh lemon juice to your tea.12
|↑1||The Flu Season. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑2||Flu. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑3||NIH Human Microbiome Project defines normal bacterial makeup of the body. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑4||Vighi, G., F. Marcucci, L. Sensi, G. Di Cara, and F. Frati. “Allergy and the gastrointestinal system.” Clinical & Experimental Immunology 153, no. s1 (2008): 3-6.|
|↑5||Steed, Ashley L., George P. Christophi, Gerard E. Kaiko, Lulu Sun, Victoria M. Goodwin, Umang Jain, Ekaterina Esaulova et al. “The microbial metabolite desaminotyrosine protects from influenza through type I interferon.” Science 357, no. 6350 (2017): 498-502.|
|↑6, ↑7, ↑8, ↑9, ↑10, ↑11, ↑12||Kozlowska, Aleksandra, and Dorota Szostak-Wegierek. “Flavonoids-food sources and health benefits.” Roczniki Państwowego Zakładu Higieny 65, no. 2 (2014).|