It’s hard to stay healthy, especially when our bodies’ natural defenses aren’t up to the task. From temporary illnesses like a cold or flu in adults and children to more serious digestion issues like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s Disease, people may find themselves searching for immune system support.

If flu season has you running for the hills, echinacea might be your new BFF. With its impressive array of benefits on the immune system, this powerhouse herb deserves attention from anyone looking for an affordable way to keep their body feeling balanced! Read on to learn about echinacea. 

Echinacea and Prevention

A recent meta-analysis showed that consuming echinacea can help to reduce the risk of recurrent respiratory tract infections by up to 35%. How might echinacea accomplish that?

Though the jury is still out, the current theory is that echinacea upregulates the production of specific immune system cells, like natural killer cells (which help manage viral infections) and certain white blood cells. Echinacea may also inhibit viral proteins, meaning the viruses can’t accomplish their job of making you sick quite as easily.

This could be great news for those of us who are constantly getting the flu, RSV, or the common cold. But let’s dig a little deeper and ask: why are you constantly getting sick?

The Gut Microbiome and the Immune System

When it comes to our immune system, we must remember how intimately intertwined it is with the gut microbiome. Gut microbiome balance can impact flu, RSV, and even common cold susceptibility due to its influence on immune system cells like B-cells, T-cells, and antibodies that fight off various pathogens. 

When an invader enters the body, our immune system becomes activated. That means our immune cells work to kill and remove the invaders.

The gut is one of the most accessible entrances to the body for invaders. Think about it – we’re putting germ-covered foods and items in our mouths all of the time. When was the last time you replaced your toothbrush? What about thoroughly washing your fruit? Yeah… us too.

That’s why immune cells are concentrated in the gut – germs enter the digestive system 24/7. 

The tricky part for immune cells is identifying the invaders it encounters. They must be able to distinguish between a healthy cell and a pathogen. Differentiating between helpful and harmful bacteria living in the microbiome might be even more challenging.

So how do they “learn” which microbes are dangerous and which are not? This identification process is where gut health comes into play. We have several types of immune cells in the body, but one type is particularly crucial for immunity in the gut: B cells. B cells create antibodies and deploy them in the intestines. 

Quick reminder: antibodies are proteins that bind to and kill their target. You can think of them as bullets that only work against enemies. Each B cell identifies the enemy, manufactures a bullet (antibody), and pulls the trigger. 

B cells’ antibodies also act as signals to other immune cells; other immune cells migrate to the site to help. 

This is where echinacea might come into play. If the current theory is correct – that echinacea can help increase levels of specific immune cells, mainly white blood cells – echinacea may increase levels of B cells or the other cells they call on.

B cells are precious to our gut health, and anything that harms them dampens our immune response and may propel dysbiosis.

Irregular motility (like diarrhea), overuse of antibiotics, and some autoimmune diseases decrease beneficial bacteria and the number of B cells in the gut. 

If you seem to have a “weak immune system” or are too sick too often, talk to your healthcare provider about addressing your dysbiosis and bolstering your immune system.

Supplements like echinacea, a multivitamin, bovine colostrum, probiotics, and IgY Max may be worth a shot. Check out our blog to learn about ways to support your digestive system.

A healthy gut microbiome fosters a healthy immune response. Tag us in your digestive health journey @igynutrition on Instagram! Happy mixing.