Many people do not realize the vital link between the gut and the immune system. Now that autumn is here, many of us are aware that the cold and flu season is approaching, and developing a further understanding of our gut is a great foundation for protecting our immune health. Before we dive into the link between the gut and the immune system, let us take a moment to explore how the gut works.
How the Gut Works
When we think of the gut, it is often simplified down to: breaking down the foods we eat, extracting the nutrients needed, and then eliminating the waste. While these are the major functions, our gut is responsible for more than just digesting food… Much more. The gut is a system composed of trillions of microbes, linked directly to the brain, giving it the ability to communicate with other systems in the body. As a result, gut health is a great indicator of one’s overall health.
Comprising a complex community of microbes (gut flora), and an intricate semi-permeable lining, the gut can become damaged over time due to many factors. These include: the food we eat, viruses, parasites, caffeine, alcohol consumption, and antibiotics. Its level of permeability can also fluctuate in response to a variety of chemically mediated conditions, or moods.
For example, stress (at any level) causes: changes in gastrointestinal secretion and an increase in intestinal permeability; which in turn creates an atmosphere where bacteria from the gut can enter the bloodstream (known as leaky gut). Once this happens, problems begin to arise. Even though it is produced within our own bodies, this bacteria can wreak havoc when it escapes the gut.
The Gut’s Role in the Immune System
The microbes in the gut are actually the body’s first line of defense against pathogens introduced to our systems via swallowing. For example, have you ever taken a piece of gum without washing your hands first? Or eaten at your desk while still using the keyboard? Well if you’re like most of us, you answered yes! As we do these nonchalant things, these pathogens make there way into our guts triggering our immune system, which is why we do not get sick every time we introduce germs into our bodies.
On the contrary, when the walls of the gut become compromised our bodies naturally exhaust the immune system to control and remove the “foreign” bacteria. This response of the immune system inadvertently leaves the body vulnerable to other pathogens, thus weakening our immunities.
As Hippocrates once said, “all disease begins in the gut.” While we know this 2000 year old bit of wisdom isn’t true of ALL diseases, the gut is majorly responsible for inflammation. Many experts now see inflammation as arising from an immune system response that’s out of control. Inflammation is the root of scores of diseases and ailments such as: obesity, cancer, heart disease, and autoimmune disease.
Gut Health Increases Overall Health & Wellness
This cycle can seems daunting and unavoidable, well at least it was for me at first. However understanding the systems in our bodies and the inter-connectedness of it all is of great importance when it comes to keeping the gut healthy and the immune systems running smoothly. The microbes in the gut can work for us if we nourish them. Being more mindful of what we consume and taking appropriate hygienic action can lessen the amount stress we put on our immune systems.
Supplements can also play a key role in regulating our inflammation and immune health. Omega-3 fish oil has been found to slow the production of the gut bacteria linked to inflammation, while Curcumin (potent chemical found in Turmeric) is well known for it’s anti-inflammatory properties and ability to regulate the immune system. Supporting our systems through diet and supplementation is part of the complete system that is health and wellness. (Shameless plug: our Turmeric Curcumin 1,000 and CogniDHA Fish Oil are excellent for reducing inflammation and related issues.)
The endless microbes within the gut are directly tied to the immune system, which is in turn tied to inflammation. Intervening and nourishing our systems has a profound effect on this cycle and optimizes our health on several levels. So as your immune system and gut come under fire this fall, safeguarding your gut health may be the key to a record low number of sick days.