Until very recently, the link between the gut and overall health was extremely underrated. Today, we know that the gut is linked to SO many different health issues that it is safe to say that gut health determines overall health and wellness.
The gut is responsible for absorbing the nutrients that keep our bodies running like a well-oiled machine, but it also serves as a barrier between harmful organisms and our inner workings.
Gut health affects everything from energy production to hormone balance, skin health, mental health, and even toxin and waste elimination.
Approximately 70% of your immune system is housed in your gut, therefore it is vital to look after your gut and ensure you keep it in tip-top shape.
Two major factors play a role in gut health and therefore affect immunity. These are gut microbiome (or gut microflora) and gut lining permeability.
It is important to look at the 2 different scenarios in terms of gut microbiome and immunity.
Firstly, dysbiosis (imbalance of healthy and bad gut bacteria) compromises immunity and therefore the immune system's ability to fend off bacterial and viral infections. This would lead to regular and/or persistent infections such as colds and flu.
On the other hand, research has found a link between dysbiosis (and associated compromised gut permeability) and auto-immune disease, which can lead to chronic and debilitating diseases.
Gut lining permeability:
The gut lining consists of cells called mucosal cells. They are tightly joined together to prevent any molecules from crossing over into the blood. The junctions between these cells are called Tight Junctions.
On these cells are receptors, which act like doors into the bloodstream. In a healthy gut, this would be the only way for molecules in the stomach to enter the bloodstream.
When the T-junctions become compromised, the gaps between these cells become ‘loose’ and molecules, including bacteria and viruses, can cross the barrier without going through the cell ‘doorways’. Therefore, the first line of deference is compromised.
Apart from the compromised immunity, this also leads to chronic low-level inflammation, which further increases the risk for chronic diseases, such as auto-immune disorders, cardiovascular disease, and cancers.
So you can understand that improving gut health will lead to a more robust immune system.
Here are things that could be affecting your gut health and microflora and will cause chronic low-level inflammation:
Constipation, which can be caused by dehydration, a diet low in fiber, lack of physical activity, hormone imbalance, medication, or medical conditions;
Processed foods - which lead to inflammation of the gut lining;
There is some evidence that suggests that gluten may lead to increased permeability, and therefore ‘leaky gut’. Limit the intake of gluten, but even better, eliminate it from your diet;
Dysbiosis (imbalance of gut microflora);
Lack of sleep;
High levels of stress;
Exposure to toxic substances (aerosols, cleaning products, beauty products, pesticides, herbicides, pollution, etc.);
High intake of animal products; and
Low intake of plant-based foods
What to do:
Here are some simple habits that you can start implementing to support your gut health:
Increase the intake of plant-based foods by including fruit, vegetables, and nuts in EVERY meal (including snacks). Make sure plant-based foods make up the biggest percentage of each meal;
Take a good quality, broad-spectrum probiotic daily;
Find ways to manage your stress, like breathing exercises, laughing, practicing hobbies and mindfulness;
Foster healthy bedtime habits like leaving your phone in the lounge and going to bed before 21:30;
Limit the intake of alcohol to twice a week and only 1 drink at a time for ladies and 2 for males; and
Be mindful of all the nice-smelling toxins in your home.
Look after your gut and it will certainly look after you….