All the things that define winter---good and bad--can have a big effect on your overall health and well-being. The constant circulation of germs as you're cooped up indoors can lead to cold after cold, the shorter days and lack of sunlight can really bring your mood down, and all the rich food served at holiday celebrations can leave your digestive tract in disarray. That's why your gut microbiome and its ability to boost your immune system function, help regulate your mood and keep your digestion flowing regularly is so important this season--and why you need to take steps to safeguard your gut health during wintertime. As always, the first and most important step is supplementing with probiotics. These beneficial bacteria strains help keep your microbiome in tip-top shape year-round, but opting for a formulation that addresses seasonal concerns head-on like LoveBug Probiotics' Colds Suck immune support probiotic is especially important during the colder months. Here are three more key things you can do to keep your gut microbiome in balance this winter.

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Fill Your Diet with Seasonal Winter Vegetables

It's a wonder of modern agricultural technology that many foods are now available year-round regardless of their natural growing season. Unfortunately, as delicious as having summertime fruit in the depths of winter may be, eating out-of-sync with the season may throw your gut microbiome out of balance. Evidence suggests that crops forced to mature out of their natural growing season have lower nutrient levels and higher levels of certain harmful compounds like lectin. Together, these lowered nutrient reserves and increased amounts of damaging substances can harm your intestinal walls and encourage an unbalanced gut microbiome. Additionally, fruits and vegetables that are set to be harvested out-of-season tend to be treated with chemicals to hasten ripening. So instead of filling your diet with out-of-season produce, head to the farmer's market and stock up on winter's freshest vegetables. Delicious recipes can be made with vegetables that ripen in the cold of winter, include Crunchy Winter Vegetable Salad, Marinated Beets with Potatoes and Horseradish and Roasted Parsnip Soup with Walnut Pesto.

Warm Up with Green Tea

When the days get colder, many of us like to warm up with a hot drink--and if you're interested in supporting your gut health, it's a good idea to make yours a green tea. This rich and relaxing drink is well-known for its wide range of health benefits from improving cardiovascular health and protecting bone density to boosting cognitive function and improving mood, but it has one property in particular that helps support a strong gut microbiome and balanced digestive tract health: it's naturally antimicrobial. In short, multiple studies have demonstrated that using green tea can help clear up dermatological diseases such as fungal infections and acne that are caused by harmful bacteria. Additional research has shown that using green tea as a mouthwash can reduce plaque and gingivitis, with other studies suggesting that green tea can help combat the bacteria that cause urinary tract infections. Now you might be wondering: if green tea is naturally antimicrobial, wouldn't it have the same negative effects on your gut microbiome as antibacterial cleaners do? Luckily, the answer is no. Green tea's antimicrobial properties seem to be targeted solely at the bad strains of bacteria that can invade your body. Researchers have uncovered no evidence that green tea reduces the numbers of beneficial bacteria strains in the body--and there is evidence that drinking green tea can actually increase good strains like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus as it attacks harmful ones. In other words, fill that mug up with green tea instead of hot cocoa as you relax by the fire this winter!

Get Outdoors--Even if There's Snow on the Ground

Even the most ardent outdoor enthusiasts tend to become homebodies once the mercury begins to drop. If you can resist the urge to stay inside your climate-controlled home or office building, however, you can help your gut microbiome thrive this winter--directly and indirectly. Going outdoors increases your gut microbiome's diversity simply by exposing you to a wider variety of good bacteria strains. In turn, a more diverse microbiome tends to be a healthier, more balanced one. There's clear-cut evidence that exposure to the outdoors early in life leads to better gut microbiome function, but scientists are increasingly finding reasons for adults to get out into nature to improve their gut health. One study found that exposure to bacteria commonly found in dirt can dramatically elevate mood, and initial data reported by the American Gut Project appears to show that adults who exercise outdoors have more diverse microbiomes. Spending more time in nature can support your gut health in indirect ways, too. Plentiful evidence exists that shows that time spent outdoors correlates with lower stress levels, while high stress levels are connected with a proliferation of bad bacteria strains in the gut and worsening gut health. Going outside instead of staying in and watching movies on the couch has the additional benefit of getting you moving, and exercise has been shown to boost good bacteria populations in the digestive tract by as much as 40 percent. As tough as it can be to leave the comfort of your warm home when the weather gets really cold, the evidence is clear that doing so can improve gut health--so put on another layer and go build a snowman.

Support Your Gut Microbiome During Cold Weather Months

Winter can be rough, but a balanced gut microbiome can help you weather anything that the season has to throw at you. So get outdoors and then warm yourself up with some seasonal soup and green tea--and be sure to start each day with a probiotic supplement like those from LoveBug Probiotics. Reference . (2016) Gallic Acid Promotes Wound Healing in Normal and Hyperglucidic Conditions. Molecules 21:7, pages 899. Flores GE, Caporaso JG, Henley JB, Rideout JR, Domogala D, Chase J, Leff JW, Vázquez-Baeza Y, Gonzalez A, Knight R, Dunn RR, Fierer N. 2014. Temporal variability is a personalized feature of the human microbiome. Genome Biol 15:531. doi:10.1186/s13059-014-0531-y. Human Microbiome Project Consortium2012Structure, function and diversity of the healthy human microbiomeNature 486:207214. doi:10.1038/nature11234 . (2016) Comparaison de différentes méthodes d'extraction d'acides dicaféoylquiniques à partir d'une plante halophile. Comptes Rendus Chimie 19:9, pages 1133-1141. Tancrède C. (1992Role of human microflora in health and diseaseEur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis11: 1012–5. . (2015) Inhibitory effects of wild bitter melon leaf extract on Propionibacterium acnes-induced skin inflammation in mice and cytokine production in vitro. Food & Function 6:8, pages 2550-2560.