Natural Foods Merchandiser: I’ve heard immunity starts in the stomach. Is that true? Which supplements can help boost immunity?
Store: Immunity and digestion are intertwined. If you’re not digesting your food properly, it can throw your whole system out of whack and you could get sick. It’s all about bacteria. If you don’t have enough good bacteria in your stomach to process foods and work through toxins, you probably don’t have enough to fight off disease.
NFM: How do I know which one to choose?
Store: It might take some trial and error, but I can show you some of our top sellers.
NFM:OK, but first, I think I’ve heard that enzymes might be good for immunity.
Store: You know, I have to admit that I’m not as clear on enzymes. I know they help with digestion and that likely helps with immunity, but they work differently than probiotics. I don’t want to give you wrong information, so I can see if my manager can come out and explain enzymes a little better.
How did this retailer do?
Our expert: Steven Lamm, MD, director of men’s health at New York University Medical Center and author of No Guts, No Glory (Basic Health Publications, 2012)
This employee recognized that the stomach is among the first lines of immune-system defense. However, within the stomach, it is gastric acids—not probiotics—that keep bad bacteria at bay. The intestinal tract is where probiotics support immune function, prevent pathogenic bacterial overgrowth and restore balance. However, probiotics are only part of the picture.
Enzymes are biologically active proteins that are critical to every biochemical reaction in the body and necessary for good health and immunity. When eating foods that are highly processed, cooked improperly or difficult to digest, I’ve found that taking supplemental enzymes reduces stress to the digestive system, supports the proper uptake of nutrients and creates an ideal environment for 70 percent of the immune system.
Retail representatives can’t be expected to know all of this. But ideally, they all should be armed with adequate educational resources and, like this one was, be honest with shoppers when unclear about an answer and always willing to seek assistance from a co-worker.