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Can a healthy gut protect you from COVID-19?

Gut health has become a hot topic in the health and wellness industry, but what does it have to do with COVID-19?

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An illustration of the omicron variant. Recent research suggests a healthy gut could help with COVID-19 symptoms.

An illustration of the omicron variant. Recent research suggests a healthy gut could help with COVID-19 symptoms.

Illustration by Zoe Peterson, Deseret News

Gut health has become a hot topic in the health and wellness industry, but what does it have to do with COVID-19? Considering about 70% of your immune system is actually in your digestive tract, science indicates it may be a factor that can make symptoms worse and stick around for longer.

What is a gut microbiome?

The human microbiome is made up of trillions of microbes, such as bacteria, fungi and parasites. Microbes play a crucial part in the body’s day-to-day functions. These microorganisms are everywhere throughout our bodies, with the largest amount in the gut. 

Good Health Rx reports, “The gut microbiome is associated with many different health conditions, like heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, dementia, depression, cancer and even COVID-19.”

Your gut microbiome affects your overall health and also performs several vital functions in your body. The gut microbiome is in charge of: 

  • Managing digestion.
  • Making energy for your cells.
  • Producing hormones and essential vitamins.
  • Breaking down toxins in your gut.
  • Protecting you from harmful viruses by activating your immune system.

What affects your gut microbiome?

Your gut microbiome can evolve based on your DNA, your upbringing and your lifestyle choices. Rachel Carmody, assistant professor in the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, says the gut microbiome can change in only a matter of hours. “Our gut microorganisms not only react to make best use of whatever is available, they’re extraordinarily adaptable,” said Carmody.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, your microbiome can be affected by:

  • Medication use.
  • Diet.
  • Probiotics.
  • Sugar intake.
  • Stress.
  • Exercise.

What do we know about the link between the gut and COVID-19?

COVID-19 can affect many parts of your body, including your gut. The virus can infect enterocytes, which are the cells that line your intestines. Intestines, the esophagus and the stomach are key parts of the gastrointestinal tract, which is directly affected by the gut microbiome.

Can gut health affect the severity of COVID-19 symptoms?

Experts aren’t sure yet whether the gut microbiome is related to the severity of COVID-19, but there’s evidence that points to a negative correlation between the two. 

The diversity and amount of bacteria in the gut may affect the severity of COVID-19 as well as the magnitude of the immune system response to the infection, suggests research published online in the journal Gut

Gut reported that poor gut health may lead to lasting COVID-19 symptoms, stating that “imbalances in the makeup of the microbiome could also contribute to persisting inflammatory symptoms, dubbed ‘long COVID.’”

A study on the association between gut health and COVID-19 published in the Public Library of Science last October found that severe COVID-19 symptoms were more common among patients with poor gut health scores.

Additionally, participants who reported unhealthy food intake were more likely to experience severe symptoms.

Can taking probiotics help protect me from COVID-19?

Actually, yes. In a study published by the National Library of Medicine, evidence suggested probiotics supplementation could reduce the severity of COVID-19 morbidity and mortality. Past research shows that probiotics are helpful for other respiratory tract infections like influenza and respiratory syncytial virus — which suggests they could be helpful for COVID-19 as well, reports Good Rx Health.

What can I do to improve my gut health?

It’s not too late to start changing your gut for the better. Here are 10 research-backed ways you can start improving your gut health today.

  • Take probiotics and eat fermented foods, like kimchi or sauerkraut.
  • Eat less sugar and sweeteners.
  • Reduce stress.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Avoid taking unnecessary antibiotics.
  • Use different cleaning products.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • Eat a vegetarian diet.
  • Get proper sleep.
  • Eat prebiotic-rich foods like asparagus or bananas.