There’s a superstar hiding in your guts.
Confused? You might be, since it almost never gets talked about. The secret to your health – emotional and physical – lies inside your GI lining. There’s millions of bacteria living in your gut, collectively termed the ‘gut microbiome’. This colony of bacteria regulates your digestion, emotional response, and even immunity.
“But how?”, you might ask. Besides the Central and Peripheral Nervous Systems, there’s another nervous system in your GI lining that regulates your immune system, emotions, and numerous other crucial functions.
We’re talking about the Enteric Nervous System. This quiet powerhouse works almost independently of the brain and spinal cord. It regulates immunity, and neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and more. Ever felt “butterflies” in your stomach? Or the dreadful feeling of your stomach “dropping” when you hear bad news? That’s your ENS.
Gut microbiota, along with the ENS, help your immune system to function better and keep you happy, healthy, and thriving – well, as long as your gut is also happy, healthy, and thriving. Poor gut health will cause health issues, many of which are chronic in nature, like IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
IBS is just one example of the havoc that can be wreaked upon your body if the gut is not maintained properly. People with IBS testify that their daily lives are affected greatly. A survey on the impact of IBS on patients’ lives found that in exchange for 1 month of relief from IBS, the respondents would give up sex, the internet, alcohol or caffeine, and even cell phones.
IBS is thought to affect approximately 10% to 20% of adults and adolescents worldwide.(1)
Besides IBS, other gut health issues include Celiac disease (a severe gluten allergy), acid reflux, or Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) like Crohn’s Disease, or Ulcerative Colitis.
Gastrointestinal (GI) issues impair your life due to the symptoms that can range in severity from flatulence and bloating to diarrhea, constipation, bleeding, ulcers, anemia, weight loss, and an increased susceptibility to pathogens making you fall sick much more frequently. These interfere with your social life, productivity, mental health, and greatly contribute to stressors in your routine. Even if you don’t already have GI issues, you can develop them if your gut is unhealthy.
But how does having digestive issues affect your overall immunity?
A healthy gut microbiome means better immunity. “Human health relies on the composition of microbiota in an individual’s gut and the synthesized metabolites that may alter the gut environment.” states this study.
To get specific, pathogens like viruses and germs, parasites, and harmful microbes are kept out thanks to the competitive-exclusion effect(1) exerted by your gut microbiota (specifically, by probiotic bacteria).
This effect prevents colonization by pathogens in your gut because of the presence of ‘good bacteria’.
It’s even theorized that gut microbiota plays a role in whether or not infants will develop allergies. The microbiota of those with allergies was found to be different from those without. Exposure to certain gut bacteria is hypothesized to stimulate the immune system and train it to adequately protect against antigens.(2)
Research suggests that dysbiosis in the gut may even be associated with the development of Type 2 Diabetes.(1)
Other studies report that the gut microbiota also plays a key role in innate and adaptive immune homeostasis in the human body.
The Gut-Brain Axis and The Gut-Skin Axis
There are also pathways linking the gut to the rest of your body, like the Gut-Brain Axis(GBA)(1) or the Gut-Skin Axis(3). The GBA is a bidirectional relationship of the gut microbiota with the brain. It shows that mental stress causes dysbiosis in the gut microbiome (it negatively affects the microbiome), through what is called the HPA (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal) Axis. This leads to GI disorders.
The Gut-Skin Axis is the relationship between the gut microbiome and skin. Gut dysbiosis can lead to inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis, dermatitis, acne, and more.
An unhappy gut means low immunity, and ultimately an unhappy life. You need proper gut function for proper immunity, so you can flourish in the pink of health.
What You Can Do
Now that we know how gut flora affects human health, how can you improve your gut microbiome and immune system?
Here are a few ways to have a healthier gut and immune system using functional methods:
Reduce Inflammation: Sugary and highly processed foods can cause heavy inflammation in the gut, leading to GI disorders. We also recommend avoiding gluten which can lead to the development of Celiac Disease (CD). CD is associated with not just poor GI health but can even cause neuro-degeneration and poses you at an increased risk of mental illnesses like schizophrenia.
Add Antioxidants: Foods high in antioxidants help keep the gut safe from inflammation. The curcumin in turmeric is effective against Crohn’s disease. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of this herb are very good for your GI system. Other sources of antioxidants include berries, citrus fruits, ginger, and green tea.
- Switch to Seafood: Seafood is a great and healthy source of proteins and omega-3 fatty acids like EPA and DHA which are great for many systems in the body, including the digestive and immune systems that work together. These omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties making them highly beneficial for gut health. Fatty and oily fish like mackerel and salmon are delicious and healthy additions to your diet.
Probiotics: Finally, the gut-heroes everyone has heard about. The importance of probiotics is stressed for good reasons: when your GI tract is populated with probiotics – the ‘good’ bacteria – there isn’t enough room for the ‘bad’ bacteria and other pathogens to take up. They help to decrease inflammation and help regulate the immune system. Coconut milk curd and Apple Cider Vinegar (with mother) are good sources of probiotics. Sauerkraut and Kimchi are also good, but should be avoided in case of thyroid disorders.
- Use Supplements with Spore-Based Strains: Taking probiotic supplements is another way to get the required good bacteria in your gut, but regular probiotic supplements won’t get you very far. You need soil-based strains which are more effective than other probiotics. Soil-based strains can survive the harsh stomach environment that would normally destroy the bacteria. They are also better for SIBO - Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, which is when there are too many bacteria in the small intestine. Spore-based strains go to the large intestine, and do not colonize the small intestine. That’s why we recommend that you get a probiotic supplement that includes spore-based strains like Bacillus Clausii for immunity, Bacillus Coagulans for nattokinase and Vitamin K2, and Bacillus Subtilis which produces the optimal form of lactic acid, for the best results.
Always consult your healthcare provider before taking any supplements or medication, especially in the case of pregnant women.
Now you understand how taking care of your gut health has positive immuno-modulatory effects and will improve not just your physical health, but also help your mental health! Using these tips, you can start giving back to your gut microbiota and help them to let you flourish at the absolute peak of your health.