The COVID-19 pandemic makes all of us more aware of immune system health, and we all want to do what we can to stay as healthy as possible. Proper nutrition, good sleep hygiene, and fitness are all things we care for to make our immune system strong.
Did you know that gut health is critical to the overall immune system health, too?
In fact, your gut contains approximately 70% of the cells that make up the human immune system. Gut health is linked to autoimmune disease, cancer, mental health, Type 2 diabetes, and more.
Maintaining a healthy gut is an important aspect to maintaining homeostasis in the body and reducing the risk of acute and chronic physical, mental, and emotional diseases.
What is Gut Health?
Everything we consume passes through the gastrointestinal tract, where needed nutrients are absorbed into the body. Bacteria live and grow all along the lining of the stomach and intestine, where they aid in digestion and absorption. These beneficial bacteria are known as “probiotic bacteria”. When healthy, they help prevent disease and infection, regulate metabolism, and maintain overall health and wellbeing. The trillions of bacteria, yeast, and viruses that live among bacteria are collectively called the microbiome, and it is this system that makes up overall gut health.
Think of the bacteria in the gut as gatekeepers, and they control what passes through the intestinal lining to the organs and body.
When the gut is healthy, these gatekeepers allow nutrients to pass (“good bacteria”) while keeping out foreign particles (“bad bacteria”). “Good” bacteria also help the body fight off “bad” bacteria that can lead to an imbalance in the body and a compromised immune system.
When functioning properly, the healthy bacteria in the gut keep unhealthy bacteria at bay, creating equilibrium in the gut and maintaining proper gut health.
These gatekeepers are the foundation of our immune system, as they determine what is passed into the body and effectively “train” the immune system’s response to everything absorbed into the body. When out of balance, there is an overgrowth of bad bacteria which leads to autoimmune disease and other acute and chronic conditions.
Symptoms of an Unhealthy Gut
How do you know if your gut is healthy? While everyone’s gut microbiome is different, there are some common symptoms to look out for:
Gas and Bloating: Normal digestion and fermentation in the gut produces gas, but an imbalance of bacteria in the gut can lead to excessive fermentation and produce too much gas, creating bloat and discomfort.
Diarrhea: Bacterial overgrowth can cause loose stools, and diarrhea can also cause the body to expel good bacteria, worsening imbalance in the gut.
Constipation: People who suffer from constipation often have lower levels of a certain type of bacteria (Bifidobacteria) that leads to constipation and is a contributing factor to conditions like IBS.
Mental Health/Mood Disorders: An unhealthy gut is a contributing factor to mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and PTSD. An unhealthy gut affects the body’s ability to process key neurotransmitters needed for mental wellbeing: dopamine and serotonin.
Weight Gain: Because gut bacteria are responsible for breaking down and absorbing food and nutrients, an imbalance in the gut can lead to weight gain.
Food Sensitivity: Food allergies such as gluten or dairy sensitivity are often linked to unhealthy gut bacteria.
Ways to Maintain Digestive Health
Proper gut health is important even when you aren’t experiencing symptoms, and there are some important practices you can employ to heal your gut and maintain gut health.
Healthy Habits: Proper nutrition, exercises, hydration, and good sleep hygiene help support overall health and wellness, including in the gut. Eating a balanced diet that includes fiber, vegetables, fruit, and whole grains helps maintain gut health. Avoid junk foods with saturated fat and sodium, and sugary drinks like soda. Smoking and excessive alcohol intake also affect gut bacteria. Limiting food like red meat, dairy, and refined sugar always helps improve gut health.
Food Diary: If your gut is out of balance, track your food intake in a daily diary. Specifically track your fiber intake as it relates to symptoms of gastrointestinal distress. Take note of what you eat, and how your body feels as a result. Watch for patterns associated with foods, and make necessary adjustments.
Manage Stress: The gut is directly affected by stress levels, and chronic stress causes an inflammatory response and upsets the balance of bacteria in the gut. Incorporate stress reducing practices into your daily routine, like yoga, meditation, and breathwork.
Should I Take Probiotics?
There are many probiotic products on the market, and it can be confusing to know which one is right for you. Probiotics are most commonly used to address intestinal disorders that are not associated with acute illnesses. Probiotics can help restore balance in the gut by secreting protective substances that may activate the immune system and restore gut balance. However, people who have immune deficiency or are being treated for cancer should not use probiotics without a doctor’s okay.
Probiotic supplements are not monitored by the FDA in the same way drug products are regulated, so it’s important to consult with a physician or pharmacist before deciding which probiotic is right for you. We are still learning about how probiotics may promote health.
Experts recommend trying natural food sources for probiotics before using probiotic supplements. Probiotics (good bacteria) are found in yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and miso.
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The material contained is for reference purposes only. Alliance Labs, LLC and Summit Pharmaceuticals do not assume responsibility for patient care. Consult a physician prior to use. Copyright 2020 Summit Pharmaceuticals and Alliance Labs, LLC.