“It is more important to know what sort of a person has a disease, than to know what sort of disease a person has.”Hippocrates
Have you ever wondered why some people seem to spend all winter with a cold and others never get sick? Why some people recover from COVID in a few days while others are plagued with long term symptoms or even die.
According to Dr Robynne Chutkan, in her new book The Anti-Viral Gut, it is the health of the host person not the potency of the virus that matters most – and it is your gut microbiome that matters most.
This may sound outlandish, but take the following examples. 95.5% of people who are infected with Polio virus have no symptoms, in 0.5% of people the virus is able to cross the gut wall and cause crippling paralysis. HIV can be a death sentence for some, but 10% of people are completely immune and will never be infected, and others can become infected but live with it and never develop AIDS.
Dr Chutkan – a gastroenterologist – explains that the differences are found in the gut. She paints the picture of your body as a tube. Your gastrointestinal tract (anywhere your food is) is actually ‘outside’ your body, because there is a wall separating the contents of your gut from your body. The microbiome of bacteria and fungi in your gut helps to break down your food into constituent micronutrients that can be absorbed across this wall; but it also acts as copilot in constant communication with your body. It sends signals that help your body know which potential pathogens to respond to and which to ignore. It tells us how hard to respond to a given threat (an overly aggressive response can be just as bad), makes hormones and clears toxins.
The health of your microbiome is more of an indicator of your response to a virus than any other factor (like age, obesity, or heart disease).
Building a healthy anti-viral gut is about nourishing your microbiome and supporting a healthy & robust gut wall. We highly recommend The Anti-Viral Gut to really understand this, but for now we’re going to dive straight into Dr Chutkan’s top 10 tips to build an anti-viral gut.
1. Eat more vegetables
Fibre feeds your microbiome and fruits & veggies are loaded with fibre. In particular, veggies like onions, leeks & garlic and fruits like berries & apples contain fibres like inulin and pectin that are converted into beneficial short-chain fatty acids which help regulate immune response. Diversity is also very important to provide a range of foods for your microbiome, so aim for 30 different plants a week.
2. Avoid highly processed foods
Choose foods that grow on a tree or bush over highly processed foods. They’re richer in fibre & phytonutrients that your gut microbes need to thrive.
3. Add in some fermented foods every day
There are up to 1 billion live bacteria (and 24 strains) plus the fibre to feed them in every tablespoon of sauerkraut. Adding a little into your diet every day can be hugely beneficial.
4. Moderate alcohol consumption
Try to keep your alcohol consumption below 7 drinks per week for women, and 14 for men. It’s often easier to drink none than some, so consider dropping the booze altogether.
Robynne Chutkan recommends at least half your bodyweight in oz of water every day, which gets a bit complicated if you’re a litres and kilos sort of person. 2 litres a day isn’t too far off.
Hydrating helps maintain healthy mucus levels which is literally your first line of defence against viruses. Healthy mucus contains mucins which denature virus proteins, killing them before infection can take hold. Unhealthy mucus may well be a shared characteristic of super spreaders – people whose mucus isn’t destroying viral cells so they shed & infect more.
6. Avoid unnecessary medications
With a major emphasis on the word necessary – Dr Chutkan recommends reconsidering your medications. If you need them, you need them, but recognise the downsides if you’re taking something for extended periods.
Antibiotics kill gut bacteria as well as any other infection. You need your gut bacteria to fight viruses – microbes can produce proteins that compete for binding sites and they help modulate your immune response. A child that has recently been on antibiotics is 5x more likely to have a bad outcome from Rotavirus than one that hasn’t.
NSAIDS (like Ibuprofen) can damage the gut wall, weakening the physical barrier between the inside & out and allowing viruses in.
Anti-acid medication reduces the ability of your stomach acid to break down viral cells, increasing the risk of infection developing. This is especially important for COVID because there are 100x more of the receptors that it binds to in your GI tract than your respiratory system.
7. Sleep 7-9 hours every night
Sleep is unbelievably important for immune response. Just one night of sleep of 4 hours or less reduces critical immune cells the following day by 70%. When the clocks change by 1 hour, we see a 25% increase in the number of heart attacks! Being sleep deprived in the 48 hours before you get a vaccine can reduce the effectiveness by up to 30%. Try to go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day, and prioritise it above life’s other demands wherever you can.
8. Exercise daily
Aim to exercise vigorously enough that it’s hard to hold a conversation for at least 30 mins at least 5 days a week.
9. Get outside daily
During the Spanish Flu epidemic, recuperating outside reduced the death rate from 40% to 13% due to an effect called the open air factor. You might not be able to make it to the woods, but try to walk around the block every day – even when the weather is bad!
10. Get quiet
Find time to sit quietly and deeply relax for a little time every day. For some this means a 20 minute meditation, for others it’s just a few minutes in a quiet corner.
This was just a whistle-stop tour of the key advice in Robynne Chutkan’s latest book The Anti-Viral Gut. We’re here to help you implement it easily; you get 30 plant points a week (and 2 per day) as well as all the fibre & phytonutrients from a daily plantshake – if you want to try them for the first time; our Immunity bundle is a great place to start!