The gut is the seat of immunity with an estimated 70% of your immune system living within its walls. This makes sense. The cells of the immune system must be located at the host–microbiome interface to appropriately respond: that is, your digestive system and its inhabitants.
When we eat infected food, swallow contaminated phlegm, or are exposed to infectious agents in other ways, these components are directed to the gut where the immune system swings into action to protect our wellbeing.
Let’s take a look how this works…
As the noxious material enters the mouth, the immune system initiates an immune response. T cells — one of the white blood cells of the immune system — ready themselves by ‘sensing’ the presence of unhealthy compounds and mounting a response.
Next, after descending the esophagus, they reach the stomach. The potent acids here destroy some of the harmful matter.
But, the following step is where the real magic happens…
In the intestines.
The intestines contain trillions of gut bugs including bacteria, fungi, and viruses. These tiny beings — called microbiota — play a massive role in immune function…
The microbiota prevent toxins from crossing the lining of the gut and entering the body. When foreign invaders get through the gut wall, inflammation and illness can occur. So a healthy microbiome is essential for protecting yourself from getting sick.
Plus, as noted in the review article, Good or bad: gut bacteria in human health and diseases:
Gut bacteria could train the immune system, prevent the growth of pathogenic bacteria, regulate the gut development, maintain epithelial integrity, and shape the neuronal development.
These tiny bugs literally halt the spread of infection, protect your gut wall and teach your body how to respond faster and more efficiently to invading organisms.
Additionally, diet plays a role. When you eat fiber rich foods, compounds called short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) are produced. With an important anti-inflammatory role, SCFA’s help to maintain a normal colon and repair intestinal damage. This stops harmful bacteria, fungi and viruses from sticking to the gut wall and multiplying in number.
But, there’s a important problem many of us face…
Sadly, in first world countries, the high use of antibiotics and dietary change have profoundly effected our microbiome. The consequences include susceptibility to illness. With cold and flu season upon us, and increased exposure to germs and bacteria at school and work, it’s important to improve your gut health to protect yourself from becoming unwell.
How can you increase your microbial health and protect yourself this winter?
There are three powerful ways…
1. Increase your intake of fibrous foods like beans, peas and lentils, oats, barley, and green banana flour. Cook, cool and reheat potatoes and brown rice. This fibrous form of resistant starch is wonderful for boosting immune function.
2. Reduce stress. Psychological strain can lead to dysfunction of the microbiota.
3. Supplement with a proven probiotic strain. Lactobacillus reuteri has been shown to produce antimicrobial agents, stop harmful bugs from taking hold in the gut, protects gut wall permeability so infections don’t cross into your body, and boosts your immune responses.
Improving your gut health and microbiota this winter will protect you from infection, illness, and plain feeling unwell!