With the rise of awareness of how to take care of our bodies during this time, Drew Mulvey sheds some light on the effect of viral infections. When a pathogenic organism is introduced to our bodies, there is a sharp rise in inflammatory proteins such as Interleukin-6. This can manifest as symptoms which display as heat (fever) and an increased mucus formation, commonly seen in respiratory infections. This inflammatory protein is essential in the first line of defense against pathogenic organisms; however, an overexpression of this protein, commonly seen in comorbidities such as autoimmunity and diabetes, may increase one’s susceptibility to contracting and experiencing complications from that virus.What is one thing we can do to stay healthy? Keep our guts functioning optimally!

What exactly is gut health? There are tiny microorganisms that live in the gut and are responsible for 80% of immune function. They are also responsible for proper digestion and assimilation of nutrients, and synthesis of several metabolites such as biotin—a B vitamin essential for heathy hair skin and nails—and short chain fatty acids—compounds important for maintaining the integrity of the intestinal wall.There are several different strains of the bacteria but most fall under two genera, Firmicutesand Bacteroidetes. An optimal ratio of Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes falls in the range of 0.6-0.8. An imbalance in favor of more Firmicutescan lead to weight loss resistance; increased susceptibility to infection; decreased digestive function leading to bloating, constipation and cramping; and disruption of the integrity of the lining of the intestines. The latter may contribute to the development of food sensitivities and low-grade inflammation, increasing one’s susceptibility to pathogenic infection. Some things that can disrupt the natural balance of beneficial to harmful bacteria is lack of sleep, infection, mental anguish and, more importantly, a poor diet.

What can we do to keep our guts healthy and keep out immune system functioning properly? Attack our nutrition. Here are some functional foods to include, reduce and eliminate for optimal gut and immune function.



Our guts contain organisms that support immunity, help maintain a healthy balance between good and bad bacteria, and make nutrients more bioavailable to absorb. It is important to replenish these healthy bacteria with live cultures from food—known as probiotics—to keep the gut functioning properly. Probiotics are found in high amounts in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, sourdough bread, tofu, tempeh, miso, kombucha, kefir and yogurt. These foods are particularly high in Lactobacillus sp., which are essential for immune function.


There are two categories of fiber: insoluble and soluble. Insoluble is responsible for increasing intestinal transit time, or regularity, and eliminating toxins and viruses cleared out from the liver more quickly. This is important as low amounts of insoluble fiber can lead to constipation and recycling of toxins, which can develop into low-grade inflammation. Insoluble fiber can be found in foods such as legumes, whole grains and brans such as rice. Soluble fiber is responsible for decreasing LDL levels and regulating blood glucose levels. Soluble fiber can be found in foods such as legumes, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables, and dark chocolate. This particular type of fiber also acts as a direct fuel source for probiotics in our gut, particularly those known as prebiotics. These act as a direct fuel source for beneficial microorganisms. They can be found in foods such as bananas, asparagus, berries, garlic, onions, Jerusalem artichokes, organic apples, gluten-free oats and leeks. Both prebiotics and probiotics work in tandem in creating a symbiotic environment to keep the gut healthy.

Reduce and/or Avoid

High Animal Protein and Saturated Fat Diets

Diets high in fat, particularly saturated fat, have been linked to increased proinflammatory gene expression of proteins such as IL-6 and TNF-alpha.High-fat, high-protein diets have also been linked to a decrease in diversity of gut microbiota, particularly those of the Bacteroidetes sp.Meat is also high in omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid, which has also contributed to increased gene expression. My advice is to reduce the intake of animal proteins and include more sources of plant-based proteins such as lentils and beans, nuts and seeds, and whole gluten-free grains. This increases dietary fiber intake while decreasing fat intake.


Consumption of large amounts of this food places stress on the adrenals and increases production of corticosteroids, particularly cortisol. Prolonged exposure to this hormone can lead to depletion of nutrients, such as chromium and zinc, which decrease immunity and insulin sensitivity, electrolyte imbalance, and lowered stomach acid promoting the growth of harmful bacteria. Candida, an opportunistic fungus, can also proliferate, which can lead to immune dysfunction.


Gluten can be found in wheat, rye, barley, oats and faro. Most wheat in the US has been genetically modified to resist Round Up, a common weed killer. Glyphosate, the main ingredient in the Round Up weed killer, has been linked to the development of several diseases such as cancer. Proteins in genetically modifiedfoods also have the potential to escape proteolysis, the ability of digestive enzymes to break down specific components of food, such as gluten. Undigested proteins passing into the intestinal lumen have the potential to cause allergic reactions, contribute to the development of low-grade inflammation and gluten sensitivity in those “previously sensitized.”

 Heavy Alcohol Consumption

If it is one or two drinks with friends once a week, our bodies have the ability to rebound and detoxify without causing long term damage. Heavy alcohol consumption, on the other hand, has been shown to decrease vital nutrients such as zinc—a compound essential for the production of stomach acid and protein digestion—and decrease the abundance of beneficial strains of bacteria (particularlyLactobacilliand Bifidobacter sp.) promoting bacterial dysbiosis. Alcohol consumption can also decrease bile acid production, leading to impaired digestion of fats and fat-soluble vitamins, and contribute to inflammation of the gut.

The statements made in this article are not meant to cure, treat or diagnose, and are to be used for educational purposes only.


  • Velazquez-Salinas L, Verdugo-Rodriguez A, Rodriguez LL, Borca MV. The Role of Interleukin 6 During Viral Infections. Front Microbiol. 2019;10:1057. Published 2019 May 10. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2019.01057
  • Rinninella E, Raoul P, Cintoni M, et al. What is the Healthy Gut Microbiota Composition? A Changing Ecosystem across Age, Environment, Diet, and Diseases. Microorganisms. 2019;7(1):14. Published 2019 Jan 10. doi:10.3390/microorganisms7010014
  • Gut Microbiota: From Microorganisms to Metabolic Organ Influencing Obesity. 2018. 26(5). Article retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/oby.22179.
  • Ding YH, Qian LY, Pang J, et al. The regulation of immune cells by Lactobacilli: a potential therapeutic target for anti-atherosclerosis therapy.Oncotarget. 2017;8(35):59915‐59928. Published 2017 Jun 2. doi:10.18632/oncotarget.18346
  • Moss, J. What is the rightful place of clinical nutrition in today’s world of chronic illness: A metabolic perspective. PowerPoint presented at University of Bridgeport. June 2015. Bridgeport, CT.
  • Wypych, T., Marsland, B., Ubags, N. The impact of Diet on Immunity and Respiratory Disease. Annals of the American Thoracic Society. 4(5). Article retrieved from https://www.atsjournals.org/doi/10.1513/AnnalsATS.201703-255AW.
  • Akkerdaas, J et. al. Protease Resistance of food proteins: a mixed picture for predicting allergenicity but a useful tool for assessing exposure. Clinical and Translational Allergy. 2018. Article retrieved from https://ctajournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13601-018-0216-9
  • Bishehsari, F. Alcohol and Gut-Derived Inflammation.Alcohol Research: Current Reviews. 38(2). Article retrieved from https://www.arcr.niaaa.nih.gov/arcr382/article01.htm.

Drew Mulvey is a certified dietitian/nutritionist, the founder of Redeeming Life Nutrition, LLC and the author of The No-Title Cookbookdue for release in July. She currently practices in Southbury, CT. For more information, connect at Drew.Mulvey@RedeemingLifeNutrition.com or RedeemingLifeNutrition.com.

Photo credit: marilyna/Bigstock.com