The cold and flu season is here, which means there are many things you should be doing now to give yourself the best chance of making it through with minimal time spent sick.
Take Care of Your Gut
Did you know that 50-60% of your immune system is at the gut?
It’s true – this is why your gut health is so important. This is also why the health of your gut ties into so many health conditions.
The immune system at the level of the gut is called the GALT – Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue. It lies right beyond the cellular surface of your gut and acts as a large army that protects against invaders. Just like your skin acts like a barrier against the outside, with its own immunity, your gut has to do the same thing.
When the health of the gut breaks down, a few things happen that also bring down your immune system:
When bad bacteria reside in the gut, they create inflammation, which leads to the cellular lining of the gut getting a little bit loose.
Your gut is supposed to have very tight junctions and it is not supposed to allow undigested particles or pathogens straight through to the blood stream.
When food is broken down in the gut, proteins are broken down into amino acids, carbohydrates into sugars, vitamins and minerals, and fats into lipids. Only these broken down particles are supposed to be transferred through the cells into the blood stream.
But, when you have a leaky gut, the whole proteins, carbohydrates and fats slip through the lining and now your immune system has to launch an attack to break them down.
With those particles in the blood stream, the body only has a few ways it can get rid of it – and the biggest one is the skin. This is often the cause of rashes and skin conditions like acne, eczema, psoriasis etc.
Food allergies are partially formed this way and contribute to the cycle of an inflamed gut and further inflame the body.
Autoimmune conditions result from leaky gut. Research now shows that you cannot have an autoimmune condition without once having a leaky gut. Here’s why: remember those undigested food particles that get through the gut and cause a full-blown immune attack?
Well, the constant inflammation and heightened immune response over time can cause the immune system to turn on itself. Remember, the body utilizes inflammation to heal – but it’s then supposed to turn off. If your diet promotes inflammation and doesn’t allow the body to turn off, now the system effectively goes haywire and continues to seek and destroy.
Now, if you assault the already heightened system with a flu shot – or you get very, very sick from a pathogen – all of a sudden you have symptoms of an autoimmune disease and you’re in my office wondering how this happened.
The problem is that autoimmune conditions often go undiagnosed. There are silent things, like leaky gut, going on below the surface. You may feel brain fog, fatigue, joint pain, and notice that you get bloated or have frequently irregular bowel movements, but that’s normal right?
Maybe not. Several of those symptoms could be a sign that the gut and the body are in need of some assistance.
One of the best ways to promote a healthy immune system is to have a healthy gut.
This means reducing inflammation and promoting thriving good, healthy bacteria.
5 Ways to Promote Healthy Bacteria and a Healthy Immune System
- If you have had antibiotics in the past, are on antibiotics now, or plan to be in the future, take a good probiotic now or with your rounds of antibiotics. Antibiotics not only kill the bad bacteria making us sick, but they also kill the good bacteria that promote a healthy immune system.
- Get probiotics from food – fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha are good examples. These are often even better than supplemental probiotics, but some can be high in sugar like yogurt and kombucha. Try to avoid the ones high in sugar.
- Eat healthy. Foods high in fiber and balanced in vitamins and minerals support a healthy gut.
- Avoid a SAD diet (Standard American Diet) – high in fried foods, lots of protein, high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, low to no fruits and vegetables, and high in hydrogenated oils and processed foods. These not only promote bad bacteria, but lead to further cravings of these foods because the bad bacteria thrive on these foods. Hop off the never-ending cycle and eat foods that are good for you.
- Fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants will also help with supporting the immune system. Vitamin C is high in citrus fruits, but it is also very high in vegetables. Unfortunately, vitamin C is easily broken down and “denatured” by heat, so mixing in a little raw fruits and vegetables is helpful (if your digestion can handle raw vegetables).
- Stay away from wheat. Zonulin is released in the gut when exposed to wheat. Zonulin has been shown to loosen the tight junctions, creating an environment for leaky gut. If you think you need to boost your immune system and heal your gut, stay away from wheat.
How do you know you have a leaky gut? Often symptoms include skin rashes, brain fatigue or brain fog, low energy, bloating/constipation/diarrhea or frequent loose stools.
Are you ready to work on your nutrition and heal your gut?
Fasano, A. (2012). Zonulin, regulation of tight junctions, and autoimmune diseases. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1258(1), 25–33. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2012.06538.x
Mu, Q., Kirby, J., Reilly, C. M., & Luo, X. M. (2017). Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases. Frontiers in Immunology, 8, 598. http://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2017.00598