Supporting your immune system through your gut
By Harmonee Tsang – BHSc (Naturopathy)
For the last few years, we have been so accustomed to frequent hand washing and social distancing for the sake of preventing the spread of illness, we may have forgotten taking care of our gut is a crucial part of supporting our immune system also. About 70%-80% of your immune system resides in your gut!
Your immune system is there to protect you from illness by fending off unwanted pathogens and bacteria, but what has the gut got anything to do with it then? The interaction between your gut and your immune system begins the moment your body encounters bacteria for the first time, typically at birth. Then, your immune system forms a diverse microbiome, and the gut impacts the strength and development of your immune system. Other factors such as diet, environment, and lifestyle habits also help shape the composition of your gut flora.
Basically, your gut and your immune system support one another! Imagine your gut microbiome being the gatekeeper as well as a trainer. It teaches your immune cells to distinguish between foreign and your own tissue. Your gut essentially sends signals for the development of healthy immune function modulating immune responses.
Here are some ways you can help optimise your immune system by supporting your gut health:
Increase consumption of fibre-rich foods
Fruits, whole grains, nuts and vegetables are full of pre-biotic fibre, increasing biodiversity of your gut bacteria, keeping the environment of your gut happy.
Try fermented foods
Other than natural yogurt, fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, tempeh, etc., contain high counts of beneficial bacteria. These bacteria may help restore the balance of bacteria in your gut, supporting digestive health.
Have more foods rich in polyphenols
Almond, onion, green tea, broccoli, and dark chocolate (crowd’s favourite) contain plant-based molecules known as polyphenols, which happen to be anti-inflammatory as well as being good fuel for the intestinal microbes.
Limit alcohol and caffeine
Alcohol can disrupt the balance of pathogenic and beneficial bacteria in the gut, which can result in bacterial overgrowth, dysbiosis, or impact the overall composition of the gut microbiome. Caffeine can decrease the transit time of nutrients in the gut, which has been shown to change microbiome composition by affecting water and nutrient availability throughout the gut and therefore should be consumed in moderation.
Find ways to relax
When you experience stress, the blood and energy normally used by your digestive system are instead redirected to other areas of your body, which can negatively impact the diversity of your gut through stress hormones, inflammation, and autonomic alterations. Yoga and meditation, or deep breathing exercises can help alleviate stress and enhance immunity.
Exercise can enhance the number of beneficial microbial species, enrich the microflora diversity, and improve the development of commensal bacteria. All these effects are beneficial for improving your health status. Try going on a short walk after meals, or engaging in 30min of physical activities a few days a week.
It is important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to improving health, that is why our student practitioners are here to facilitate your journey.