Home Health & Wellness Winter Gut Health Guide: Five Tips to Look After Your Gut and Support Your Immune System This Winter

Winter Gut Health Guide: Five Tips to Look After Your Gut and Support Your Immune System This Winter

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Good gut health is essential for supporting our immune system, which is vital during the colder months as 70% of our immune cells reside in our gut. The gut microbiome plays a major role in our body’s defence system; it acts as the “gatekeeper” to our immune system, training our immune cells which bacteria to fight off and which substances to leave alone. Essentially, the “good bacteria” in our gut compete with “bad bacteria”, such as viruses for space and nutrients. The gut microbiota helps to keep the “bad” ones at bay by stopping them from colonising.

The immune system is a complex network of organs and proteins that act as the body’s natural defence mechanism. As long as your immune system is running smoothly, you don’t notice that it’s there. But if it stops working properly, you can become ill.

The good news is that a few simple and small changes can have a beneficial impact on our gut health.

To help look after your gut and support your immune system this winter, Dr Emily Prpa, Nutritionist and Science Manager at Yakult, shares her top tips.

Get enough vitamin D

Vitamin D is crucial for immune, bone, and muscle health. In foods and dietary supplements, it comes in two forms: vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol).

There are only a few foods that provide a good source of vitamin D2, such as oily fish, liver, meat, and eggs, so we also need to consider supplements and food products that have had vitamin D added to them, known as fortified foods. Fortified foods boost our vitamin D intake, so look out for commonly fortified foods such as breakfast cereals, milk alternatives, and Yakult Balance.

Vitamin D3 is produced in our skin when exposed to specific UV rays. However, in autumn and winter in the UK, the wavelengths of the sun’s rays are not sufficient for us to produce vitamin D.

Get active

According to the NHS, every week we should aim for: 2 days of strength training, 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise weekly, spread activity over 4–5 days, less sitting, and more moving. Staying active aids in the transit of food through the digestive system to support gut function, which in turn supports immune health. It also boosts mood by releasing endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline.

Stay hydrated

Don’t underestimate the power of hydration. Sufficient water intake is crucial to helping food move smoothly through your digestive system, ensure nutrient absorption, and breakdown food for easy absorption into the bloodstream. It’s also not surprising that dehydration can lead to feelings of fatigue and irritability. Besides just drinking water, water-rich foods like fruits and vegetables also contribute to overall hydration levels. Think watermelon, cucumber, strawberries, and celery.

Embrace a diverse diet

In the colder months, a balanced diet is your best ally. Load up on fruits, veggies, and healthy fibres to boost your gut and immune function. Gut bacteria thrive on various types of plant fibres, so diversify your diet and “eat the rainbow”. Aim for at least five portions of fruit and veggies every day. If you currently only manage 1 or 2, try gradually increasing by adding an extra portion each day.

For example, consider adding items like a medley of legumes to stir-fries, pasta dishes, or stews. These small additions can help boost your plant food intake and, in turn, help make for a happier gut.

Prioritise quality sleep

Not only can a broken night’s sleep leave us feeling tired and irritable, but it can also affect gut function. Disruption from sleep can impact the balance of our gut bacteria. Plus, a lack of sleep can result in an increase in the stress hormone cortisol.

Adults typically need 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night to feel at their best. Ensure your bedroom is dark, cool, and quiet. Avoid screens with artificial light and limit alcohol intake, as these factors can impact sleep. Additionally, make sure you’re getting outdoors during the day and exposing yourself to daylight. This is crucial because exposure to natural light helps regulate your circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock that governs the sleep-wake cycle.




Emily Prpa, PhD is Yakult’s science manager and a registered nutritionist. She has a PhD in nutritional sciences and her research has focused on the therapeutic effects of plant-based foods.

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