Can constipation weaken your immune system?

Kerry Beeson BSc (Nut. Med.) Nutritional Therapist

Did you know that suffering from constipation might increase your chances of catching a cold?

Helping to boost our immunity is important all year round, and not just something to think about as we approach winter months.

woman holding her tummy

70% of your immune system is in your gut making it the largest immune organ in the body. In order for it to be performing at its best and helping you to fight off viruses and bugs as we go through the seasons of the year, your digestive system needs to be in tip-top condition too.

If, however, you suffer from constipation then this can have a knock-on effect on your immune system in primarily one of two ways.

Firstly, constipation slows down the peristaltic action within your intestines. This means that food matter and waste gets stuck preventing good absorption of key nutrients, some of which are needed to support the immune system. Other side effects can include inflammation and bloating.  Over time, this lack of nutrient absorption and build-up of food matter will weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to the viruses that cause common coughs and colds.

Secondly, constipation also affects the balance of good bacteria within your digestive system, which is crucial for the strength of your immune system. Good bacteria has a major role in the breakdown and digestion of food, but as part of the body's immune response they also produce substances that drive off or kill invading pathogens, such as the flu virus. If your levels of good bacteria are compromised as a result of constipation the chances are you are more likely to fall ill.

woman lying down holding tummy

We are only just starting to scratch the surface of the role of good bacteria within the gut and its impact on our immune system, as well as our overall health, but with increasing research we are discovering more every day.

Top tips for building your immunity

Eating fibre

You have to keep your digestive system moving to prevent constipation.  Fibre is an essential part of any constipation sufferers diet, but it also supports your immune system. Soluble fibre especially, which some research has shown can change cells from pro-inflammatory (damaging) to anti-inflammatory (healing) and thereby help us to speed-up recovery from infection.

Drink plenty of water

Water keeps the body hydrated, and this is vital in the intestines to keep your stools moving through and prevent constipation.  Staying hydrated throughout the colder months, even if it's in the form of herbal teas, is just as important as when the weather is hot. This will help your body to detox naturally through the excretion of both urine and stools, and flush away any germs or unwanted viruses that the immune system kicks out.

Eat immune-boosting foods

Ensuring that your diet is healthy, varied, and full of fibre will go a long way to boosting your immune system and preventing constipation.  Some top immune-boosting foods are: blueberries, carrots, dark green leafy veg such as a spinach, kale, chard and cabbage, beetroot, Brazil nuts, grapefruit, onion, garlic, ginger and mushrooms, so try to include a few of these in your daily meals.

Take a probiotic supplement

Building up your levels of good bacteria will leave you in good stead to help support your immune system and fight any unwanted viruses or infections that we will inevitably encounter. The friendly bacteria will also keep the bowel functioning properly, and help to ease or prevent any constipation symptoms too. 

Always look to take a high quality, well-researched probiotic, and ideally one that has been trialled specifically to help you with an identified health need. In this case, especially for its immune-boosting properties or to alleviate constipation. The probiotic strain of bacteria Lactobacillus paracasei CASEI-431® has been shown in human clinical trials to help support the immune system and immune health, so this can be an excellent option to take throughout the winter months.

You can find Lactobacillus paracasei CASEI-431® in Optibac 'For daily immunity'.

Optibac 'For daily immunity' product image

Consider a multivitamin supplement

A diet rich in healthy foods should always be your primary source of nutrients, but sometimes you may need a helping hand to support your health and immunity, particularly if you are suffering from constipation. Look for a supplement that contains some of the key vitamins and minerals needed to support your immune system such as zinc, vitamin C and B vitamins. If possible, do a little research before you select your multi-vitamin product to ensure that you are buying each vitamin and mineral in a form that is easily absorbed and utilised in the body.

You might also be interested in:

Probiotics for Constipation

Probiotics for Immunity – a Look at the Research