Why looking after your gut health is key to a strong immune system.
We are constantly being reminded to wash our hands or not touch our faces to prevent ourselves from pathogens (bacterium, virus or any other microorganisms that could lead to disease) affecting us via the body’s surface.
However we also need to look after ourselves from within if we want to help fight against viruses and diseases. Our immune systems are comprised of various components such as our white blood cells and antibodies that work together to destroy pathogens that have entered the body.
Our immune system basically seeks and destroys Viruses. Certain underlying illnesses can reduce our immune systems ability to do this however for most of us, by eating a healthy and more importantly a balanced diet it can have a big effect on our immune system.
Why does our gut health matter?
‘70% of our immune systems tissues are located around the intestines’
One of our main sources of exposure to the outside world is through what we eat and therefore through the lining of our intestines.
The lining needs to be thin so that we can absorb nutrients easily. But because it is so thin we need to make sure its well protected against pathogens from our external environment.
This is where our very beneficial intraepithelial lymphocytes come in.
These antibodies are the first line of gut defence against these pathogens. They fire off toxin-killing proteins called cytokines (which play a role in bodies level of inflammation) and help us repair the thin intestinal lining whenever it is breached.
If you’ve heard of Leaky gut, this is what is meant. We can damage the lining of the gut to such a extent that we cause holes to appear.
Include these foods into you diet to improve gut health and immunity
Green Vegetables And The Gut
A 2011 paper from the National Institute for Medical Research in London, found that a dietary compound in green vegetables is key to maintaining the population of these intraepithelial lymphocytes in the intestine.
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts are the best examples of vegetables rich in these compounds. Vegetables in our gut also act as a signal to our immune system.
With vegetables in our gut, it works as a signal to upkeep our immune system.
Now, most of us will have been taught that eating your greens is good for you since birth. But, during times like these with the corona virus spreading rapidly, it’s a good rule for us and everyone else to follow in order to help protect us.
We need more Short Chain Fatty Acids being produced for optimum gut health…
SCFA’s are what are known as post biotics. They are the product of the activity of the bacteria in our gut. Human beings cannot produce SCFA’s on their own so rely on certain bacteria to help and to help these bacteria we must feed them with sufficient amounts of fibre (aka Pre biotics).
The prebiotics help the bacteria produce post biotics, which have been shown to produce numerous benefits for our wellbeing. For example SCFA’s have been proven to help put a stop to leaky gut and they can also help to increase insulin sensitivity as well as directly inhibiting harmful bacteria such as e-coli.
Clearly fibre is important for our gut health however in the UK less than 10% of us are getting enough fibre in our diet.
Follow These 3 steps to stimulate better gut health
1. Eat more Pre-biotics
Prebiotics are compounds in food that induce the growth of beneficial microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi in the gut. Essentially they’re food for our beneficial bacteria.
Having a diverse range and abundance of beneficial bacteria in our gut helps to program an effective immune response to any rogue pathogens or illness.
Eating whole foods, with a focus mainly on fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, will provide you with an abundance of antioxidants and fibre, and are crucial as a prebiotic for our gut.
Start slow and work up. Don’t go from eating no vegetables to eating eight cups a day. Another big tip to bear in mind when increasing fibre in your diet, is to coincide the uptake with drinking more water. People can get bloated from increasing fibre because they’re not drinking enough water to push the food through. Which leads us onto the next point.
2. Stay Hydrated
Drinking lots of water and staying hydrated benefits us in many different ways, from helping us maintain the appearance of our skin to improving our cognition and mood.
So it shouldn't be a surprise that drinking plenty of high quality and filtered water has been shown to have a beneficial effect on the mucosal lining of the intestines, while at the same time benefiting the balance of good bacteria in the gut.
The average person in the UK only drinks 1.7 litres per day, which is well below the recommended average of 2.5 litres. So make sure you keep an eye on your water consumption and get those eight glasses into your daily routine.
3. Reduce Your Stress levels
While you may think of stress as more of a mental state, it can also have a physical effect on our gastrointestinal system and the bacteria that reside within it.
A 2017 study found that high levels of stress can have a similar effect on your gut bacteria as a high-fat diet. Another study from the same year also raised the idea that a reduction in beneficial gut bacteria can in turn produce stress-induced activity.
It’s a vicious cycle, with stress altering the bacteria in your gut, and the gut bacteria then having a significant influence on your stress levels.
So, in admittedly anxious times like we are in it makes sense to at least attempt to practice some form of mindfulness. If not for your sanity, then do it for your gut.