Beneficial bacteria in your gut can convert antioxidants in tea into compounds that help fight influenza infections. This finding was published this month in the journal Science. You have approximately three pounds of microbes in your gut. They don’t just help you digest food; they can actually produce a host of beneficial substances, some of which can help your immune system.

The research was conducted in mice by scientists from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The specific antioxidants in tea that gut bugs metabolize are called flavonoids. They are also present in other foods such as berries and red wine. Ashley L. Steed, MD, PhD is lead author of the study, and has said “For years, flavonoids have been thought to have protective properties that help regulate the immune system to fight infections. Flavonoids are common in our diets, so an important implication of our study is that it’s possible flavonoids work with gut microbes to protect us from flu and other viral infections”.

Influenza causes fever, cough and body aches. It makes most people feel incredibly sick for a week, but it can be fatal for individuals with a compromised immune system, babies and elderly people. Since 2004, approximately 113 children have died from influenza in the USA each year. Another of the study’s authors said “It’s not only having a diet rich in flavonoids, our results show you also need the right microbes in the intestine to use those flavonoids to control the immune response. We were able to identify at least one type of bacteria that uses these dietary compounds to boost interferon, a signaling molecule that aids the immune response. This prevented influenza-related lung damage in mice. It is this kind of damage that often causes significant complications such as pneumonia in people.”

It is certainly true that a healthy gut is vital for a healthy immune system. Approximately 70 percent of your immune system resides in your gut, and the composition of your gut bugs largely determines how well your immune system functions. The flu is a highly contagious infection that anyone can pick up, but if your state of health is good, you are less likely to experience complications. A diet high in plant food and fiber is important because these foods feed healthy gut bugs. You may also consider taking a probiotic, and having a cup of tea at the first sign of an infection.

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