Over 2000 years ago, Hippocrates suggested that all disease begins in the gut, and you know what? I have a gut feeling he was onto something.
We know the gastrointestinal tract houses almost 70% of the immune system and is impacted by the microbiome, diet, and stress levels.1
If you’ve ever been stressed about an important meeting or presentation, drank a few too many coffees, and then fallen sick a couple of days before your big moment, you’ll know this to be true (and highly inconvenient!). Science says that stress, along with an imbalanced diet, can trigger inflammation and lead to a cold or flu.
Luckily, a balanced diet with minimal stress helps reduce inflammation and regulate immunity.
What can you do to support a healthy immune system?
Along with stress-busting activities that you can read about here, there are plenty of ways you can naturally support your immune system.
Eating a nourishing and balanced diet is my preferred way to support your immunity. I recommend you focus on functional foods, which act as a form of preventative medicine.2
One of my favourite classes of functional foods is called polyphenols, which naturally support immunity, regulate the gut response, and decrease allergic symptoms.3 Polyphenols are some of the most abundant chemicals in the plant kingdom and are produced by plants as their own medicine to help them protect against stress (how’s that for a bit of iso trivia?).
Plants also use polyphenols to protect themselves against pests, diseases, and UV light. The healthier, more diverse the soil, the higher the polyphenol number, which is good news for our plants. That’s another vote for plants being grown organically rather than chemically with fertilised soil.
But I know you’re not here to talk about foliage (or, maybe you are. In that case, check out my plant!)
Luckily for us, polyphenols have a similar impact on human health, and, like plants, the healthier the soil (or, in our case, our microbiome), the more polyphenols can be used.
While polyphenols may sound like a bit of a fancy-schmancy trend, you’re likely sipping on polyphenols right now; they’re not hard to find. Tea, vegetables, and fruit are all rich in polyphenols. Examples of polyphenols are flavonoids found in herbal tea, cacao, chia seeds, ellagitannins in pomegranate and resveratrol found in red wine.
How can we absorb polyphenols?
Polyphenols are too big to be absorbed directly by the gut, and our gut can’t break them down into smaller fragments.
So, what can we do?
Nothing. I just thought I’d share this information with you!
Thanks for reading the blog; I hope it was worthwhile.
While polyphenols can’t be absorbed in the small intestine, they can travel down to the part of the gut inhabited by trillions of microbes. These microbes can break it down (insert DJ noise here) into smaller absorbable molecules which can enter the bloodstream and exert their health-promoting effects throughout the body.4 Isn’t the body capable of incredible things?
So, what exactly are these health-promoting effects, you ask.
Health Benefits of Polyphenols
Polyphenols are antioxidants that contribute to the prevention of immune diseases.4 Polyphenols promote immunity by removing foreign pathogens to fight infection and bacteria and signal pathways that initiate immune responses.4 Evidence has found that polyphenols are effective in regulating the immune system response, decreasing symptoms of allergic disease, and even inhibiting tumour-related activity.4
Asthma, allergies, and eczema, and related disorders, can be associated with overactive immune cells and studies indicate that Fulvic Humic Concentrate can act as an anti-inflammatory by reducing the release of pro-inflammatory mediators from cells.
Polyphenols are excellent for gut health as they modulate bacteria in the gut microbiome. Specific polyphenols can increase or inhibit the growth of particular bacteria, which can change the composition of the gut microbiome and reduce pathogens.5,6 And we know that a balanced digestive system is key to a healthy immune system, so this is the news we needed to hear! You can also try our Love Your Gut powder or capsules to help balance your digestive micro flora and modulate bacteria.
Where can you find polyphenols?
The best way to consume polyphenols is through the diet.
You can find polyphenols in:
- Apples: what about this highly digestible and delicious Apple and Fennel Soup?
- Beans: try out my Black Bean Burgers.
- Berries: hello homemade Raspberry Chia Jam.
- Black and green tea: the perfect excuse to try The Best Sticky Chai.
- Cacao: was there ever a better reason to eat Chocolate and Coconut Roughs?
- Chia seeds: get bready for my Chia and Flaxseed Loaf down below!
- Nuts: go nuts for my Sweet Spiced Nuts.
- Olive oil: go extra for extra virgin olive oil with this Tray Baked Salmon
- Soy: can I tempt you with this Vegan Caesar Salad?
- Turmeric: these delectable fudgey Turmeric Fudge pieces will surprise and delight.
- Vegetables: hello, Roasted Sweet Potato with Basil Pesto. How I’ve missed you!
What else can you do to support the immune system?
- Eat a variety of plant foods daily and ensure you have enough fibre, as this is required to digest polyphenols.
- Prioritise rest and aim for at least eight hours of sleep a night.
- Move your body regularly in a way that works for you.
- Try to manage your stress levels.
- Focus on maintaining hygiene.
And now, for the moment you've all been waiting for: My Chia and Flaxseed Loaf
Chia and Flaxseed Loaf
Makes One Loaf
This is my daily polyphenol hit in the form of a slice of toast. Use it for a blissful open-top sandwiches or a mouthwatering and satisfying toasted sandwich.
- 350 g (12 oz/21/3 cups) gluten-free self-raising flour
- 30 g (1 oz/1/4 cup) ground flaxseeds
- 20 g (3/4 oz/1/4 cup) chia seeds
- 115 g (4 oz/3/4 cup) mixed sunflower seeds and pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 4 organic eggs
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
- 80 ml(21/2 fl oz/1/3 cup) tablespoons additive-free coconut milk
- 1 tsp maple syrup or 6 drops stevia liquid
- 125 ml (4 fl oz/1/2 cup) filtered water
- Preheat the oven to 175°C (345°F/Gas 3–4) and grease and flour a 20 x 9 cm (8 x 31/2 inch) loaf (bar) tin.
- Combine the flour, flaxseed, chia, sunflower and pumpkin seeds and salt in a bowl and mix until combined.
- In a separate large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the eggs for about 2 minutes – they should be pale and fluffy.
- Stir in the apple cider vinegar, butter, coconut milk, maple syrup or stevia and water. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the flour mixture and stir well to combine.
- Spoon the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and bake in the oven for 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the centre of the loaf comes out clean.
- Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.
This loaf will keep for one week in the fridge or two months in the freezer.
1Vighi, G., Marcucci, F., Sensi, L., Di Cara, G., & Frati, F. (2008). Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Clinical and experimental immunology, 153 Suppl 1(Suppl 1), 3–6. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2249.2008.03713.x
2M. del Cornò, B. Scazzocchio, R. Masella, and S. Gessani, “Regulation of dendritic cell function by dietary polyphenols,” Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, vol. 56, no. 5, pp. 737–747, 2016.
3Sujuan Ding, Hongmei Jiang, Jun Fang, “Regulation of Immune Function by Polyphenols”, Journal of Immunology Research, vol. 2018, Article ID 1264074, 8 pages, 2018.https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/1264074
4Filosa, S., Di Meo, F., & Crispi, S. (2018). Polyphenols-gut microbiota interplay and brain neuromodulation. Neural regeneration research, 13(12), 2055–2059. https://doi.org/10.4103/1673-5374.241429
5Rastmanesh R. High polyphenol, low probiotic diet for weight loss because of intestinal microbiota interaction. Chem Biol Interact. 2011;189:1–8.
6Duenas M, Munoz-Gonzalez I, Cueva C, Jimenez-Giron A, Sanchez-Patan F, Santos-Buelga C, Moreno-Arribas MV, Bartolome B. A survey of modulation of gut microbiota by dietary polyphenols. Biomed Res Int. 2015;2015:850902