Did you know that your gut function and bacteria play a huge role in the immune system? Like most, when you start to feel run down and sick, your digestion is probably the last thing that comes to mind.
Gut bacteria and the immune system
If you were to add up all the bacteria (microflora) in you gut, it would weigh in around 1.8kg. That’s as heavy as any other major organ in the body. Most microflora reside in the colon, with up to 500 strains working to protect us from ill health.
Good gut bacteria boosts the immune system by:
- By signaling Gut-Associated Lymphoid Tissue (GALT) to carry out an effect immune response (GALT makes up to 70% if the immune system, storing immune cells that protect the body from pathogens).
- By producing it’s own natural acids, antibiotics and hydrogen peroxide that together protect against harmful microorganisms (including parasites, candida albicans and the bad bacteria that causes food poisoning).
- By producing adequate levels of butyrate (a fatty acid), which reduces inflammation in the gut (thus protecting from Inflammatory Bowel Diseases such as Chrohn’s disease).
- Helping us convert certain carbohydrates and starches into usable nutrients and energy.
- Producing Vitamins K that protects us from osteoporosis, cardiovascular, degenerative and infectious diseases (such as pneumonia).
- Producing Vitamin B12, which plays a vital role in the production of white blood cells (antibodies).
- Training the immune system to discern between pathogens and non- harmful antigens, and how to respond appropriately.
Are your guts weakening your immune response?
If you experience any of the following health issues, you gut function and bacteria may be hindering your immune system:
- Recurring colds, flus and other random viruses.
- Dairy intolerance
- Leaky Gut Syndrome
- Intestinal infections caused by Clostridum difficile bacterium.
- Inflammatory Bowel disease such as Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.
- Other inflammatory diseases such as endometriosis.
- Chronic pain disorders
- Fatigue syndromes such as adrenal dysfunction or chronic fatigue.
- Skin issues such as eczema or dermatitis.
- Autoimmune diseases such as hashimotos disease or rheumatoid arthritis.
- Stomach ulcers caused by a Helicobacter pylori infection.
- Post-surgery infections.
Other reasons to balance the bacteria in your gut
- Less Bloating
- Less gas
- Reduced indigestion and gastrointestinal reflux
- Increased nutrient absorption.
- A coat-free, pink and lovely feeling tongue.
- A happier mood and clearer mind.
- Increased skin vitality with the reduction of skin disorders such as Acne, Eczema and Psoriasis.
8 ways to boost the immune system by balancing gut bacteria
1. Cut refined sugars and carbohydrates from your diet. They act as fuel for bad bacteria and may contribute to a leaky gut, increased allergic responses and an overall suppression of the immune system
2. Eliminate potential pathogens in the gut with a cleanse/ detox program (preferably under the supervision of an experienced practitioner). Common gut pathogens include parasites and candida albican overgrowth.
3. Repopulate the gut with good bacteria.
Take daily probiotics.
A nutritionist or naturopath may prescribe a specialized probiotics for your individual needs. For generally dosing, always look for a practitioner only, broad-spectrum probiotic.
Take a daily prebiotic
Prebiotics are a form of fibre that act as a fertiliser of sorts to the baby bacteria in your gut. Guar gum is an excellent supplemental choice and can be added to cereals, shakes or just dissolved in water.
Eat fermented foods
Including miso soup, natural yogurts, kim chi, kefirs and sauerkraut. Fermented foods are rich in natural probiotics that replenish and strengthen your good gut bacteria. NB: fermented foods are not suitable to those with SIBO, and for those with a histamine intolerance (therefore those too experiencing female repro issues such as pms, endometriosis, PCOS and fibroids).
Eat resistant starch
These foods will be used by your butyrate-producing bacteria to produce more butyrate therefore will diversify and strengthen your microbiome. . Resistant starch is found in cooked and cooled potatoes, rice & pasta, slightly unripe bananas (or green banana flour), legumes, cashews and soaked (but not cooked) oats (like with bircher). Try to ensure you have some of these foods every day.
Eat polyphenol foods
To put it simply, polyphenols increase good gut bacteria and decrease bad gut bacteria. Polyphenols can be found in pomegranates, red-fleshed dragon fruit, cranberries, red & black rice, red & black quinoa, black & red legumes, red grapes, blueberries and other berries. Ensure you eat a mix of these foods daily.
4. Make sure you go to the toilet (to do a number 2) every single day. Constipation causes food to back up in your colon, causing inflammation and reduced nutrient absorption.It also creates food for bad bacteria in the form of old foodstuff that ferments in your gut, (NB: Interestingly, your good gut bacteria make up 60% of the stool. So the more in balance it is, the easier it is to go. This is why regular probiotic supplementation is a good idea for constipation prevention.)
5. Refrain from taking antibiotics unless you have a true bacterial infection. They may wipe out bad bacteria, but unfortunately wipe out all the good bacteria with it.
6. Reduce you stress levels: exercise, meditate, take a nap, have some fun. Stress leads to changes in the diversity, number and composition of good bacteria in the gut which then dysregulates the immune response.
8. Get enough sleep. Unless you have a heavy meditation practice, this means a minimum of seven hours a night. Sleep deprivation also triggers a stress response in the body, which alters good gut bacteria and ultimately hinders the immune system.