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Can constipation weaken your immune system?

6 years ago

It's that time of year when the weather turns, the kids go back to school, it starts to get darker at night ... and the season’s first cold appears!  But did you know that suffering from constipation might increase your chances of catching a cold?

Up to 80% of your immune system is in your gut making it the largest immune organ in the body.  Therefore, in order for it to be performing at its best and helping you to fight the deluge of viruses and bugs at this time of year, your digestive system needs to be in tip top condition too.

If, however, you suffer from constipation then this will have a knock-on effect on your immune system in primarily one of two ways.

Healing the gut

1. Constipation slows down the peristalsis movement within your intestines, which means that food matter and waste gets stuck preventing good absorption of key nutrients, some of which are needed to support the immune system, as well as other side effects such as inflammation and bloating.  Over time, this lack of nutrient absorption and build-up of food matter will weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to the viruses that cause coughs and colds.

2. Constipation also affects the balance of good bacteria within your digestive system, which is crucial for the strength of your immune system, as previously discussed in ‘Is being too clean bad for my digestion?’.  Good bacteria has a major role in the breakdown and digestion of food, but as part of the immune response they also produce substances that drive off or kill invading pathogens (such as the flu virus), so if your good bacteria is compromised as a result of constipation you are more likely to fall ill.

To be honest, we're only just starting to scratch the surface of the role of good bacteria within the gut and its impact on our immune system, as well as our overall health but with increasing research we are finding out more everyday.  For excellent, up to date research on all aspects of bacteria follow @OptiBac on Twitter. 

There has even been some evidence[1] to show how eating whole grains (brown rice, brown bread, etc.) can change the population of good bacteria and therefore boost the immune system, compared to those who eat refined/white grains.  

Top 5 tips for building your immunity

High fibre foods

1. Eating fibre - you have to get your digestive system moving and prevent constipation.  Fibre is an essential part of any constipation sufferers diet but it also supports your immune system, especially soluble fibre, which some research has shown can change cells from pro-inflammatory (angry) to anti-inflammatory (healing) and thereby helping us to recover quicker from infection.

2. Drinks lots of water - water keeps the intestines hydrated and helps to keep your stools moving to prevent constipation.  Staying hydrated throughout the winter months, even if it's in the form of herbal teas, is just as important as when the weather is hot as it will help your body to detox naturally through both urine and stools, and flush away any germs or unwanted viruses that the immune system kicks out.  I've written about water before, click for my top tips if you struggle to drink enough.

3. Take a probiotic - build up your good bacteria levels as this will leave you in good stead as the weather gets colder, and will help support your immune system and ease any constipation which has to be a bonus!  You may want to consider an extra strength probiotic too if you have been suffering with constipation or other digestive complaints, such as diarrhoea or IBS, to give your gut an extra boost. If using a supplement, make sure you take a well researched product, like one from the OptiBac Probiotics range. 

4. Eat immune-boosting foods - ensuring your diet is good and full of fibre will go a long way to boosting your immune system AND preventing constipation.  Some top immune-boosting foods are: blueberries, carrots, dark green leafy veg such as a spinach, kale, chard and cabbage, beetroot, Brazil nuts, grapefruit, onion, garlic, ginger and mushrooms.

5. Consider a multi-vitamin supplement at this time of year - food should always be your primary source of nutrients, but sometimes you may need a boost to help support your health and immunity, particularly if you suffer from constipation, at this time of year. Look for one that contains some of the key vitamins and minerals needed to support your immune system such as zinc, vitamin C and B vitamins.

Other important posts to read include 'Foods that can cause constipation' and the 'Benefits of probiotics and prebiotics'.

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