Cuddly sweaters, crackling fires, hot cups of cocoa, and holidays spent with family and friends—winter is a magical season. But, as temperatures drop and we find ourselves spending more time indoors, we can become vulnerable to ear, nose, and throat (ENT) aggravations that can dampen our health and spirits during this special time.
The good news is that we can drastically reduce seasonal grinches like runny noses, sinus congestion, and upper respiratory and ear issues simply by taking care of that oh-so-important guardian of our health: the microbiome.
The Marvelous Microbiome
Our microbiome is the collection of all of the trillions of bacteria living in and on our body, and it can be split up into several smaller, site-specific micro biomes.
While the word is finally out about how a thriving and diverse gut microbiome is crucial for everything from a robust immune system and healthy metabolism to balanced moods and optimal cognitive function, the oral microbiome is incredibly important too, especially when it comes to respiratory and ENT health.
You see, our oral microbiome is the gatekeeper of our gut (where 80% of our immune system resides) and the first line of defense against unwelcome microbial guests coming into our body.
Made up of nearly 800 species of bacteria residing in our mouth, throat, nose, and ears, this special ecosystem filters everything we ingest or inhale, and considering that we swallow close to one trillion bacteria each day (6 million alone in a vegan diet!1), keeping this mighty microbiome in tip top shape definitely does a body good!
We know that a balanced oral microbiome brimming with tons of beneficial bacteria (aka probiotics) can block unwanted invaders from making it deep into our delicate gut environment, but how exactly does it benefit our ENT health?
Well, probiotics in our mouth can travel around our oral cavity to crowd out bad guy bacteria that can settle in and cause ear, nose, throat, sinus, and upper respiratory issues. Some beneficial bacteria even produce antimicrobial proteins that can destroy inhospitable microbes before they have a chance to make our oral environment their home.
Best Probiotics for Winter Health
When it comes to the oral microbiome, certain bacteria are especially helpful in staving off the bad guys during the cold winter months. In particular, strains of the friendly Streptococcus salivarius microbe are veritable superheroes for ENT wellness.
S. salivarius bacteria are some of the very first probiotics newborn infants naturally acquire, perhaps from mom’s first adoring kiss. Most people have non-specific strains of this helpful microbe, but a small percentage of the population (estimated at just 2%) carry a much more powerful variety, S. salivarius K12, that is proven to valiantly support ear, nose, and throat health.
In one study, kids undergoing just 90 days of S. salivarius K12 supplementation showed a 90% decrease in throat issues and 40% decrease in ear problems during the treatment period, and a 65% decrease in both for a full six months after treatment ended!2 Another strain, S. salivarius M18, produces antibacterial proteins that thwart the bad guy bacteria that can cause dental and ENT issues.3
So what can you do this winter to keep your oral microbiome off of the naughty list and full of protective friendly flora?
The Perfect Gift: A Healthy Oral Microbiome
Fortunately, following a gut-healthy lifestyle that supports the survival and growth of all the good bacteria in your body will also keep your oral microbes happy and healthy. Follow these simple steps for an oral microbiome that is ready to stand guard all winter long:
• Support with probiotics: Because your oral microbiome is separate from your gut, a probiotic you swallow won't do much to colonize your oral cavity. Luckily, chewable probiotic formulas like Hyperbiotics PRO-Dental and PRO-Kids ENT, that contain BLIS M18™, BLIS K12™, and other targeted strains, work to deliver organisms exactly where they need to go—to your mouth, ears, nose, and throat. Pair an oral probiotic with one designed for your gut (like PRO-15 or Immune) for comprehensive immune support this winter!
• Make a healthy diet a priority: Indulging in a whole-food, plant-based diet can make all the difference when it comes to seasonal and year-round health, but did you know that your microbes have dietary preferences as well? Including plenty of probiotic-nourishing prebiotics like bananas, oats, asparagus, and apples will help the good guys throughout your body grow and thrive. Also do your best to avoid processed foods, artificial sweeteners, pesticides (go organic whenever possible) and emulsifiers, since they can all seriously deplete your good flora.
• Back off the antibacterials: Unfortunately, the antibacterial ingredients in many oral health products kill bad and good bacteria alike, leaving our gatekeeper microbiome seriously out of balance. Toothpastes made from natural ingredients and coconut oil make excellent and probiotic-friendly alternatives.
• Avoid antibiotics whenever possible: Antibiotics as medicine and in food are rather indiscriminate when it comes to wiping out all the beneficial bacteria that lives in your mouth, so steer clear of antibiotic-laden foods and only take prescription antibiotics when absolutely necessary. If you do have to take an antibiotic, make sure to step up your probiotic intake during and after your medicine course to keep the good guys in control.
With all the merriment and holiday joy of the season to be had, the last thing you want is to be sidelined by ENT issues that can make you feel less than your best. So, as the winter days grow shorter and (brrrr!) colder, give yourself the gift of a healthy, robust oral microbiome so you don’t have to miss out on a minute of precious memories.
1. Lang, J. M., Eisen, J. A., & Zivkovic, A. M. (2014). The microbes we eat: Abundance and taxonomy of microbes consumed in a day’s worth of meals for three diet types. PeerJ, 2. doi:10.7717/peerj.659
2. Pierro, F. D., Donato, G., Fomia, F., Adami, T., Careddu, D., C., & Albera, R. (2012). Preliminary pediatric clinical evaluation of the oral probiotic Streptococcus salivarius K12 in preventing recurrent pharyngitis and/or tonsillitis caused by Streptococcus pyogenes and recurrent acute otitis media. International Journal of General Medicine, 2012(5), 991-997.
3. Burton, J. P., Drummond, B. K., Chilcott, C. N., Tagg, J. R., Thomson, W. M., Hale, J. D., & Wescombe, P. A. (2013). Influence of the probiotic Streptococcus salivarius strain M18 on indices of dental health in children: A randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Medical Microbiology, 62(Pt_6), 875-884.
Emily Courtney is a Writer and Editor at Hyperbiotics and mom to two fun and active boys. Emily is passionate about natural wellness and helping others learn about the power of probiotics for vibrant health! For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.