Your digestive tract houses trillions of bacteria.
Am I the only one who hears that and thinks that’s gross? Why do we often associate bacteria with something bad?
Maybe it’s because of their connotation with illness, I don’t know. But, the bacteria that live in your gut (your digestive tract) are crucial to the health of your body…especially your immune system.
Your immune system is primarily housed in your gut. In fact, those trillions of bacteria in your GI tract make up nearly 75% of your immune system!
So then, maybe it goes without saying that a healthy gut is imperative for a healthy immune system.
The Role Of Gut Health In The Immune System
When your gut is healthy…your immune system is healthy.
But, what does health look like in a bunch of bacteria? Why do we need bacteria in our gut?
Exactly what is going on inside your GI tract to harm or enhance your immune system?
Let’s find out…
1- Gut Bacteria Keep Your Immune System Balanced
Both your immune system and the microbiome in your gut demand balance.
From birth (some say even while in utero), this microbiome within your gut is forming. The bacteria help to form the immune system, and your forming immune system shapes the balance of these bacteria.
You might say they’ve developed a friendship from early on in your life, learning how to work together.
In fact, they are such close buddies, that nearly 75% of your immune cells reside in your gut.
Like a good friend, the immune system fosters growth of the good bacteria in the gut microbiome. And, in return, the gut bacteria support the development of immune cells and help these cells respond correctly within the body.
But, the bacteria sit upon a balancing scale that is thought to be “even” at an 85/15 ratio of good to bad bacteria. And, when those scales are tipped in favor of bad bacteria, the friendship is marred and your immune system overreacts, causing an inflammatory response.
What can tip the scale?
- Processed and sugary foods
- Lack of sleep
- Poor dental hygiene
These can all harm this balance, with most of these things introducing harmful bacteria to tip that scale.
2- Gut Bacteria Strengthen The Lining Of Your Digestive Tract
Your gut bacteria act as a wall…and it’s “huge.”
These bacteria essentially provide a barrier between your body and everything that enters it that could potentially be harmful to you.
This defense barrier keeps these potentially harmful substances from entering your bloodstream.
And, believe it or not, you actually ingest harmful bacteria regularly. This world is not sterile.
It’s not necessarily that you’re chowing down on a bacteria burger or anything, but think about it.
What was rule number one in the initial battle against Covid…don’t touch your face! Why is this? Because germs are everywhere, and you touch these invisible germs and then touch your face or especially your mouth, and the germs become instant intruders.
So, while a pandemic sounds overly alarming, the reality is that you can’t see germs or viruses, and you could unknowingly come in contact with a dangerous pathogen at any given time.
Thankfully, that’s where your built-in border wall comes into play.
Your gut is lined with cells known as epithelial cells. Gut bacteria are responsible for triggering immune function within these cells.
Another component of the barrier is the acidity of your gut. This chemical make-up is uninviting, and lethal, to invading pathogens. Your gut bacteria keep this environment nice and acidic…good for you, bad for invading pathogens.
When your gut flora balance is tipped in favor of the bad bacteria, this overrun can compromise the lining of your gut allowing harmful toxins and bacteria to enter. (known as leaky gut)
Your immune system then kicks into overdrive in an effort to attack these harmful substances and this needed (but harmful when too much immune reaction occurs) response continues, causing inflammation in your body.
3- Gut Bacteria Are Needed To Develop Innate Immune Cells
White blood cells are part of what is known as your innate immune system.
These natural “killer” cells are responsible for keeping infections contained. It’s like they hold infected cells hostage, giving your T cells time to form an army to destroy these cells that have been invaded by pathogens.
Studies in mice have shown that a healthy gut microbiome facilitates the growth of these innate or white blood cells in the immune system.
Those without a healthy amount of good bacteria in their gut were limited in white cell population. And, some were even found to have innate white blood cells that were defective.
4- Gut Bacteria Keep Pathogens At Bay
Your immune system works tirelessly, reacting to harmful bacteria that enter your body to destroy them, neutralize them, and learn about them to protect you in future encounters.
This process is ongoing. It’s what keeps you healthy and returns you to health when you get sick.
Your gut bacteria are essentially hungry little space hogs!
The good bacteria in your gut are taking up space and constantly feeding.
When bad bacteria enter your body, if you have an appropriate balance of good bacteria in your gut (remember, earlier we noted this “balance” is an 85/15 ratio), the harmful bacteria that enter have no space and nothing to eat. Therefore, they can’t survive.
5- Probiotic Gut Bacteria Stimulates Immune Responses
Your immune system actually has several ways that it fights off infection. One of those ways is by identifying normally healthy cells within the body that have become infected with a pathogen (germ, virus, harmful bacteria).
When this invaded cell is detected, your immune system launches an attack using a special group of cells known as T cells.
T cells identify infected cells, attack them, and destroy them. After they destroy an infected cell, they multiply, copying themselves to form an army to fight off the invading infection.
Probiotic bacteria, the good bacteria in your gut help out your immune system by stimulating these T cells, helping in the fight against illness.
How To Support Gut Health And Boost Your Immune System
Supporting the health of your gut and in turn your immune system, is done by ensuring your body has a wide variety of good gut bacteria and a good balance between both good and bad bacteria in this microbiome (not too many bad bacteria).
So, how can you accomplish this?
- Sleep– Both quality and quantity matters when it comes to sleep.
- Stay away from processed foods– Classic junk foods, boxed meals, processed sugars, white breads and pastas, sodas, too much red meat, fried fast foods, hydrogenated oils can all be toxic to your gut and thus your immune system. They disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut and trigger an overreaction from your immune system that leads to inflammation.
- Hydrate– Water, water, water!! You can include sparkling water as well. And, try infusing your water with lemon, mint, or cucumber for added health benefits.
- Limit Stress– Find ways to relax and relieve stress such as self care practices like reading a book, practicing daily gratitude, deep breathing, getting some alone time, going for a walk, and incorporating meditation or prayer.
- Exercise– Move your body for at least 30 minutes a day 4-5 days a week.
- Feed Your Body Well– Fill up on foods rich in vitamins and minerals like fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, legumes, and lean meats.
- Fermented Foods– Incorporate fermented foods and drinks into your diet, like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kefir, and kombucha.
*Note: If you are unfamiliar with these foods, they are all rich in probiotics which are those good bacteria we’ve been mentioning throughout this article. They can both replenish dipped levels of good bacteria and provide diversity or variety to your gut microbiome.
- Prebiotic Supplements- the good bacteria in your gut need to EAT. If you feed them the right foods, they thrive… if not they die. Prebiotics are food for healthy gut bacteria, so they can thrive!
- Probiotic Supplements– Sometimes we’re just not able to get ample amounts of good bacteria in our diet alone. Probiotic supplements are an easy way to boost the health of your gut providing it with a variety of good bacteria which will both keep a good balance in your gut to aid your immune system and facilitate the growth of new good bacteria within your gut.
One of the biggest signs that your gut is not functioning at its peak is the regularity of your bowel movements. If you aren’t pooping well, your gut is not healthy.
Stanford researchers have just discovered an unusual nutrient that eliminates constipation by mid-morning… You simply add it to your breakfast coffee, tea, oatmeal or smoothie…
And fully empty your bowels effortlessly, naturally, and daily.
Plus it’s completely flavorless and mixes easily so you don’t even know it’s in there.
It’s NOT a laxative, enema or psyllium supplement. But it eliminates “stuck poop” quickly, without a change in your diet. Here’s how: