Have you ever felt low or irritable but not known why? It’s more common than you think. The negative effects of a not so healthy gut reach far beyond your digestive system. When your gut is off, other symptoms are not far behind.
The link between your gut and immunity
Your gut is responsible for taking the food we eat and extracting as much nutrition out of it as possible. So, it’s not surprising that every other system in the body has a flow-on effect when the gut is unhappy.
When it comes to your immune system, the health of your gut is crucial.
Did you know that 70-80% of your immune system resides in your gut?
This means poor gut health often goes hand in hand with a struggling immune system. And on the flip side, a strong, healthy gut can put up a better defence to those nasty viruses and bacteria wanting to wreak havoc.
Especially important during this time of year when the temperature has dropped, and people begin to catch colds and flu more often.
What’s happening inside your gut?
When we are talking about gut health, a big aspect of that is the microbiome or the diverse range of microorganisms living in your digestive system – approximately 100 trillion bacteria – especially in your large intestine. That’s an enormous number and is more bacteria than total cells in our entire body.
The resident bacteria, the ones that have taken up permanent residency in your gut, provide a beautiful barrier on the gut lining. And since we ingest large amounts of pathogens daily, this barrier is an important protector.
Let’s dive deeper. Have you heard of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs)? These are substances like butyrate, propionate, and acetate, that your gut bacteria produce to help your whole body fight off those nasty opportunistic pathogens. These SCFAs have such a beneficial role to play for the integrity of your gut, reducing inflammation and improving your immunity.
How probiotics improve your immune system
So, what can you do to support your immunity through your gut?
Probiotics support the body’s first line of defence in the gut. Consider including probiotic-rich foods and drinks in your diet daily.
Think kefir, fermented veggies like kimchi, and yogurt. Probiotics don’t stick around in the gut for long though, so it’s important to include them every day to receive their benefits. That goes for probiotic-rich foods as well as supplements.
When you are looking for probiotic-rich foods, they need to contain live bacterial cultures. These can either be still present from the fermentation process or added in afterwards.
On the ingredient label, you’ll often see CFU’s, which means colony-forming units. This term is an important one to look out for since it refers to the number of live microorganisms in each serving.
7 Lifestyle changes for a healthy gut
With the probiotics going in, you want to create an environment that supports them. Here are seven diet, lifestyle and environmental factors to focus on:
- Include plenty of plant-based foods: Diversity in what you eat is important.
- Consume prebiotic fibre: Prebiotic fibre is essential to feed those beneficial bacteria.
- Reduce alcohol and smoking: Both can throw off the balance of bacteria in your gut.
- Move your body daily: In whatever way you can, walking, dancing, cycling, gardening, swimming.
- Stress less: Nurture the gut-brain connection. It’s a two-way street.
- Get enough sleep: Even short-term sleep deprivation can affect your microbiome negatively.
- Special care after antibiotics: Pay particular attention to your gut health if you’ve used antibiotics – they wipe out the harmful bacteria, but a lot of the good stuff along with it. Working with a practitioner can help the process feel less overwhelming.
The saying “you are what you eat” is not far from the truth. Foods that cause inflammation can compromise your immune system. The same goes for lifestyle choices. But given the strong link between your immune function and your gut’s microbiome, it’s important to look after your gut as a preventative measure. Small changes in lifestyle and eating habits can go a long way in boosting your immunity. Especially when we’re surrounded by a pandemic.
Author: Erin Bosanquet, BHSc (Nut Med)