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Probiotics boost immune function

Lay out the “not welcome” mat

Before you pop an herb into your mouth, consider two of the most important ways to boost your resistance naturally: Get a good night’s sleep and wash your hands regularly. Researchers have found that sleeping less than seven hours triples your risk of catching a cold versus eight hours of shut-eye. People with poor sleep efficiency are more than five times more likely to get sick. Meanwhile, hand washing helps prevent 20 percent of everyday infections like colds and 30 percent of diarrhea-related illness (nearly 60 percent for those with compromised immune systems).

Mushrooms and astragalus

Medicinal mushrooms like shiitake, reishi, maitake, and chaga, as well as astragalus root contain complex starches called polysaccharides that create a healthy challenge to your immune system. Think of it as sending your immune army back to boot camp. Your immune

response becomes stronger and more effective at dealing with pathogens, signaling improves, and trigger-happy immune cells (think: allergies and autoimmune disease) simmer down and focus on what really matters. These remedies even make your body less hospitable to cancer. You can take these remedies daily in supplement form all season to bolster your immune system, or you can work them into your diet. Cook and eat tender mushrooms like shiitake and maitake. Simmer chaga and astragalus for tea. All of them go nicely in simmering soup broth; feel free to toss them in while making bone broth.

Send unexpected guests packing

If you know you’re particularly susceptible to an infection—say you’re around some really sick people or you’re traveling—you can turn to another group of herbs. Some put your immune system into overdrive while others directly fight or inhibit pathogens. The earlier you catch it, the more likely you are to resolve an infection quickly.

As a powerful team member of your immune system, probiotics produce organic compounds that increase intestinal acidity; this inhibits the reproduction of many disease-causing bacteria. Probiotic bacteria also produce substances called bacteriocins that act as natural antibiotics to kill undesirable microorganisms. Probiotic bacteria enhance overall immune function by boosting disease-fighting cells such as phagocytes, lymphocytes, and natural killer cells. The end result—when your probiotic microbiome is flourishing—is a system that is better able to fight off infection and disease. As just one example of how this immune boost plays out in the real world, consider the latest research on the common cold. Regular use of probiotics by schoolchildren makes colds less frequent, and when they do hit, the kids get over them more quickly and miss fewer school days. A yearlong study showed a 30 percent reduction in missed school days from simply taking probiotic supplements. Research documents similar benefits in adults. “Antibacterial Activities of Bacteriocins: Application in Foods and Pharmaceuticals” by S-C Yang et al., Front Microbiol, 5/26/14 ● “Probiotics for Preventing Acute Upper Respiratory Tract Infections” by Q. Hao et al., Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2/3/15

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