Why Immunity Starts in Your Gut

Did you ever stop to think that around 80% of your immune system lies in your gut? The gut microbiome have been in the spotlight for many years for their role in gut health, chronic disease, obesity, mental health and diabetes to name a few. Need we say more? Here’s why you should start working with your gut bacteria rather than against it!

The term gut “microbiome” refers to the tiny micro-organisms, mostly bacteria but also viruses and fungi, that reside in our digestive tract. It is estimated that about 100 trillion microbial cells exist in this complex and beautiful environment where researches have now dubbed the microbiome as a virtual organ of the body. The most researched roles of our gut microbiota include:

  • Influencing human physiology via the “gut-brain axis”
  • Controlling our immune system by “communicating” with immune cells on how to respond to infection
  • Contributing to obesity, diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease (due to an imbalance of healthy vs unhealthy bacteria i.e. dysbiosis)
  • Influencing mental health (certain bacterial strains are involved in the production of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters such as the happy hormone, serotonin)

If we had to look at our gut microbiome’s role specifically in relation to immunity, we see that 1) Our immune system is regulated by our gut bacteria from birth, 2) Achieving a healthy gut bacterial balance is essential to a well functioning immune system, 3) A poorly balanced gut flora e.g. more bad than good bacteria, can lead to disease and cause an inflammatory state.

So, here’s how you can nourish your insides to ensure that your gut flora is well-balanced and flourishing:

*The bulk of your diet should consist of plant-based foods. A plant-based diet is one that is derived from plants and includes a well-planned variety of foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and wholegrain, unprocessed products. It is also a diet that significantly reduces or eliminates the consumption of animal-based foods. Two keywords to keep in mind here are unprocessed and plants! Here’s a detailed post on how to go plant-based.

*Include more fermented foods into your diet. The process of fermentation involves the use of good bacteria, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium spp, also known as probiotics. Simply put – probiotics are “good bacteria” that are similar to the ones found in our gut. They help our gut by increasing the number of good bacteria and in turn, inhibit the bad ones; a bacterial “balancing” act. Examples of fermented foods include Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Kombucha and Kefir.

*Eliminate or start cutting down on processed/refined sugar. The food industry has used sugar in huge amounts especially in processed foods as it adds colour, taste, thickness and bulk to food products. Furthermore, our consumption of processed foods has seen sky-high records including consumption of soft drinks and convenient snack foods. A high consumption of such foods can displace important nutrients you may be missing out on including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fibre. Furthermore, pathogenic or bad bacteria is known to feed on processed sugar so start thinking about your food choices more seriously when it comes to boosting your immunity and improving gut health. Should we avoid all forms of sugar then? The answer is OF COURSE NOT. Carbohydrates such as wholegrain breads and cereals as well as fruits are all advised to be included in your daily diet. Using alternatives to sweeten products could be an option and can include honey, maple syrup or dates but remember moderation is key!

*Include a range of prebiotics. Prebiotics act as the food for probiotic bacteria where they stimulate their growth and activity. Examples of prebiotic foods include onion, asparagus, garlic, chicory root, leek, barley, oats and bananas. Keep in mind though, that if you’re on a low FODMAP diet, some of these prebiotic foods may not be appropriate until you have completed the challenges.

*Beat the Stress. Stress management is essential when wanting to achieve a healthy gut microbiome because stress can affect your gut’s motility, cause changes in the secretion of gut chemicals and affect your gut’s bacterial balance. If you believe that your stress levels are high, include techniques such as meditation, relaxation, mindfulness or other forms of therapy to equip yourself with the skills needed for stress management.

For more on gut health, join me on the 25.08.18 at the Live Life Hub in Zurich for my talk Gut Health 101: Eating to Support your Gut Microbiome.

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