What if we told you that the immune system relies on the gut? In fact, around two thirds of the body’s immune cells reside in the gut. Therefore, it can be rightly said that a healthy gut leads to a healthy life. But just how does gut health affect your immune system? And how can you improve your gut health? Let’s find out.
Gut health and the immune system: The connection
Now we know that our immune system is reliant on our gut, we also need to understand the connection between them. The immune system and stomach are linked through an intricate network of cells, hormones and signalling molecules, which work together to help protect your body against illnesses. A specialised part of the immune system called the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) is in charge of keeping an eye on the gut microbiome and reacts to any problems instantly.
How does the gut boost my immune system?
While allowing beneficial nutrients to be absorbed, the gut lining serves as a barrier to keep dangerous compounds (the kind that make you ill) out of the bloodstream. This is greatly aided by the gut microbiome. Moreover, there are two types of immune cells found in the gut known as dendritic cells and T cells, which help in preserving gut homeostasis (a balanced gut) and reduce inflammation.
All of the above helps to keep any immunological reactions at bay and our gut health and immune system in check.
Alongside boosting your immunity, the gut microbiome also helps with:
- Controlling weight
- Preventing chronic diseases
- Improving mental health
- Regulating metabolism
- Keeping the body active
How the gut microbiome changes over time
You’ll be surprised to know that the body’s connection with the microbiome begins before birth, via the mother’s placenta. As we begin to mature, the body develops its own microbiome in the gut. Though, the composition of the bacteria inside the microbiome changes depending on what our bodies require at that time. For example, the composition of your microbiome as a developing teenager would look very different to an adult’s microbiome; similarly, if you were ill, your microbiome would appear different to that of a healthy person.
How can I improve my gut health?
While it may seem complex at first, maintaining a healthy gut is all about making good lifestyle choices. Choosing the right foods to eat, maintaining regular physical activity and giving your body the right amount of rest can go a long way. Some tips to improve gut health are mentioned below:
1. Balanced diet
A balanced diet goes a long way. Providing the body with apt nutrition and the right amount of meals can assist in maintaining a balanced diet. Including green vegetables and fruits, and removing items containing processed sugars can be extremely beneficial.
It has even been found that the way in which food is prepared can affect the composition of bacteria within the microbiome, with cooked food providing more benefits than a raw food diet, due to the cooked food being easier to digest.
Struggling to create a diet plan from scratch? Consult a nutritionist to help get you on track – but try to avoid one-size-fits-all meal plans, as these may not take into account your current diet and lifestyle factors.
2. Regular exercise
A no brainer, exercising regularly helps to maintain body weight and keeps us in shape. Regular exercising can not only help in maintaining gut health but can also improve cardiovascular function, preventing diseases in the long run. According to a study, regular exercise enhances the composition of the microbes in the gut microbiome and increases the body’s production of “good” bacteria.
3. Proper hydration
Proper levels of water in the body can keep it performing optimally. It has been found that people who consume right amounts of water every day are shown to have less infectious bacteria in their gut.
4. Improve sleep
Not giving your body the right amount of sleep can result in bad gut health. It has been found that undisturbed sleep gives our body the proper rest it requires and speeds up gastric emptying. Moreover, during sleep, the melatonin (also known as the sleep hormone) that the body naturally produces prevents gastric reflux.
5. Consume prescribed antibiotics (if you have an inflammatory bowel disease)
If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome or any inflammatory bowel disease, it has been suggested that prescribed antibiotics can be helpful in symptom reduction. This is because they may be able to create balance where there are elevated levels of aerobic and anaerobic bacteria. They also aid in lowering gut inflammation.
However, if you have normal gut and immune function, consuming antibiotics can cause gut dysbiosis (imbalance of bacteria in the gut) by creating a lack of bacteria diversity and incurring the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains.
Gut and immune system: Two peas in a pod
Now that we know how important gut health is for the immune system, we can rightly say that the gut and immune system are like two peas in a pod. A healthy gut microbiome can support the immune system and support it in protecting the body against disease. And a strong immune system can prevent any malicious compounds from entering our gut microbiome.
Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables can encourage the presence of beneficial gut bacteria, and avoiding processed foods, excessive alcohol and other toxins can preserve the balance of the gut. Additionally, taking probiotics and consulting a dietician to implement an appropriate diet plan can improve gut health and boost immune function.