Immune Health Begins in the Gut
There’s no denying it: “immune health” is now a trending topic around the world. In the past, most of us would focus our “immune-boosting” efforts around cold and flu season, or perhaps before traveling. But between a global pandemic and a general desire to become healthier, people are wondering, “How do I really create and maintain a healthy immune system year-round?”
We’ve got a secret: vitamin C isn’t the biggest factor (sorry, Emergen-C). Did you know that the bacteria in your gut is actually a huge factor affecting how your immune system responds? In fact, 70% of our immune system is in the digestive tract! We know diet, exercise, sleep, medications, and supplements can all change your immune response, but more research is suggesting that a middleman, your gut microbiome (also known as gut flora), is part of the reason for the change in response. So that means the bacteria in your digestive system is playing a major role in your overall immune health!
You may be asking, “Bacteria is helping? I thought all bacteria were bad and caused infections?”
You’re not alone in your confusion. This is a huge misconception about bacterias. The truth is, not all microbes are invaders or harmful. In fact, specific microbes on our mucus lining work as key players in a variety of immune responses. The medical community is learning more about which specific gut microbes are helpful through The Human Microbiome Project. The project is in its second phase and looking at how the microbiome affects specific conditions like preterm birth, inflammatory bowel disease, and diabetes. But if you’re looking for a good explanation of the microbiome this article gives a quick overview.
Let’s talk about 3 ways your gut’s microbiome supports our immune health.
A healthy microbiome supports immune system differentiation.
This means that gut bacteria support adaptive immunity. Adaptive immunity is the trainable part of your immune system; it acts as a second line of defense in response to external substances that can cause problems. A healthy flora promotes the increase of B cells and T cells which produce antibodies and attack/kill those pathogens.
Too Scientific, Didn’t Understand: all this means is that a healthy gut gives your immune system more tools to respond to any external threats.
A healthy microbiome can protect against infection.
Our gut has a very diverse group of microbes. When good bacteria are in more abundance than bad bacteria it prevents opportunistic infections through a process called colonization resistance. Simply, all the good members of your flora create resistance by preventing the growth of the bad guys. We increase our good gut bacteria by eating more prebiotics (asparagus, apples, garlic) and probiotics (yogurt, kombucha, pickles).
A healthy microbiome provides nutrition and immune health.
The bacteria in our gut help break down food like plant fibers that we normally can’t digest. Those fibers are food for our intestinal cells that are part of the immune system. The bacteria also produce other nutrients like B vitamins and vitamin K.
So our gut flora is definitely a major part of our overall immune health! Just to hit it home, one study review found that adding probiotic regimens to traditional treatment increased rates of remission in ulcerative colitis patients.
If you’re interested in products to support your microbiome, call your Sona Pharmacist today for recommendations!
Bonus: Gut Health Q&A with Buchi on 10/21/21
Sona will be answering gut health questions with Buchi, an Asheville-based kombucha company, on their Instagram at noon on Thursday, October 21! You can submit your questions ahead of time starting on 10/14. Be sure to follow Buchi and send them your gut health questions before the live event.
- “The Human Microbiome.” Review of Medical Microbiology & Immunology: A Guide to Clinical Infectious Diseases, 16e Eds. Warren Levinson, et al. McGraw Hill, 2020
- Fields, H. (2015, November). The Gut: Where Bacteria and Immune System Meet. Https://Www.Hopkinsmedicine.Org/Research/Advancements-in-Research.
- “Immunology.” Jawetz, Melnick, & Adelberg’s Medical Microbiology, 28e Eds. Stefan Riedel, et al. McGraw Hill, 2019
- The Human Microbiome Project. https://www.hmpdacc.org/ihmp/overview/
- Ghouri YA, Richards DM, Rahimi EF, Krill JT, Jelinek KA, DuPont AW. Systematic review of randomized controlled trials of probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics in inflammatory bowel disease. Clin Exp Gastroenterol. 2014 Dec 9;7:473-87. doi: 10.2147/CEG.S27530. PMID: 25525379; PMCID: PMC4266241.