When we think of supporting our immune system, we think of things like washing our hands, daily vitamin C, drinking herbal teas, exercising, and getting a good night's sleep. However, how many of you think about your gut?
Did you know that 70% of your immune system lives in your gut making this one of the most important body systems we have and of vital importance to our overall health?
So how exactly is the gut and immune system connected?
There's tissue in our gut called the GALT tissue, where all our gut immune cells live. The bacteria in the GALT tissue (also known as Gut-Associated Lymphoid Tissue) are the "good" gut bacteria that help communicate to our immune system whether new visitors are foreign invaders or welcome and harmless. In order for there to be clear communication between our good bacteria and immune cells, our gut needs to be healthy. The GALT tissue also houses plasma cells that spend their lives producing antibodies that eat up unwanted invaders, protecting us from infections.
Miscommunication and imbalances in the gut microbiome (good and bad bacteria) dysregulate immune responses and lead to the development of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune disease.
This imbalance can go on for years without us being fully aware of it or most often misdiagnosed as something seemingly unrelated, as was the case with me for almost 10 years. You might not attribute digestive problems with allergies, arthritis, autoimmune diseases acne, chronic fatigue, mood disorders, autism, dementia and cancer but the link between our gut and immune system is so strong many unrelated diseases are actually caused by gut problems.
So what throws our gut out of balance?
At the best of times or gut has a hard time staying in balance but it can unfortunately be subjected to a mountain of added stressors each day:
1. Junk food diet: Nutrient poor diets high in refined sugar feed the bad bacteria and promote yeast overgrowth
2. Infections and imbalances: These include small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), yeast overgrowth and parasites.
3. Medication: Overuse of OTC (Over the counter) medication like anti-inflammatories, pain killers, acid blockers, as well as antibiotics damage the gut lining and kill good bacteria.
4. Toxic Overload: Toxins from things like mold, smoking, pesticides, heavy metals in water
5. Inadequate digestive enzymes: High stress and the use of anti-acid medication deplete our digestive enzymes
6. Stress: Chronic stress alters your gut nervous system and can cause leaky gut
It is crucial we maintain good gut health to facilitate clear communication with our immune system so it may function at its best to protect us.
So how can we look after our gut-immune connection?
1. Get prebiotics from fiber-rich foods
Prebiotics are foods that our gut bacteria feed off. The come in the form of fiber and are converted to SCFA (Short chain fatty acids) that fuel the good guys. Foods high in prebiotics are things like beans, dark leafy greens, onions, garlic, tomatos, radish.
2. Take a quality probiotic
Replenish your gut with good bacteria is has lost through natural stressors. As well as a diverse probiotic including many strains, consume probiotic rich foods which are usually in fermented form such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso or even unsweetened Greek yogurt.
3. Minimize toxic exposure
Many of us are unaware of the high levels of toxins found in everyday cleaning and personal products. All these chemicals are absorbed through our skin and respiratory system and directly effect our gut health (among others). Opt for chemical-free products. Good for you, good for the environment.
Invest in a water filter at home to prevent ingesting toxins through dirty water.
4. Don’t eat too late
We need to give our digestive system a break from breaking down food, so it has a chance to clean up. Don't eat late into the evening and have your last meal at least 3 hours before bed.
5. Manage stress
There are multiple ways for us to destress and realign our bodies and mind. These techniques can be anything from breathing to yoga to taking a long walk outside. Find what works for you and make it a daily priority.
A you can see our gut and immune health are hugely interlinked, and by taking good care of our digestive system we boost our immune system too.
I cannot overstate the importance of looking after your gut. If you would like to learn more about gut health and how to re-balance yours, reach out to me and together we can bring you back into balance to unleash an UNLIMITED YOU!