Your body is home to trillions of bacteria and other compounds that make up your microbiome. The study of this intricate system and how it supports your health is rapidly developing, and we’re learning more about the connection between different systems in our bodies every day. Scientists are discovering that the digestive tract and immune system are intricately intertwined, and the health of one depends on the health of the other.
The Immune System and Digestion
Research shows that a large amount of your immune system, which plays a major role in both the development and prevention of disease, is housed in the gut. Like so many systems in the human body, the immune system and digestive tract (gut) are interconnected in fascinating and complex ways.
Factors that Impair Digestion
Poor gut health can have a major negative impact on your immune system. There are many factors that can impair digestion, leading to an unbalanced gut and a compromised immune system.
Food Allergies or Sensitivities
Food intolerances (both allergies and sensitivities) are a major culprit in compromised gut health and can be difficult to uncover as signs aren’t always experienced as typical GI symptoms. While food intolerances can cause classic GI symptoms like bloating, gas, stomach pain, and diarrhea, they can also have more unusual symptoms such as weight loss resistance, headaches, fatigue, joint pain, sugar cravings, and other maladies.
Allergies are typically easier to detect as most can be confirmed with food allergy screens. Sensitivities, however, more often go undiagnosed because they are harder to accurately test.
When a food reaction occurs, the body recognizes that food as a foreign invader and launches an attack with immune antibodies. This can cause a slew of symptoms that can continue for up to 72 hours after a trouble food is eaten.
Leaky Gut Syndrome
Leaky gut syndrome can be both a cause and symptom of undiagnosed food intolerances, causing a vicious cycle that brings with it a host of problems.
A diet high in processed foods with low nutrient value or regularly eating foods you might be sensitive to can cause serious damage to the lining of the intestinal tract over time. The lining of the gut has the distinct responsibility of filtering nutrients into the bloodstream and keeping undigested particles and toxins from entering. When this border becomes damaged, the body alerts the immune system to respond, causing a reaction. This damage can be caused by many things including a poor diet, antibiotics, chronic stress, a yeast overgrowth (candida), or an infection.
A diet consisting of foods that lack nutrients and fiber while being high in inflammatory sugars and refined carbohydrates can impair the digestive tract and, in turn, the immune system. Reducing processed and packaged foods and focusing on a real, whole foods diet can make a world of difference for your gut. Including fermented foods in your daily diet can also help immensely, as they are naturally packed full of probiotics. Good sources of probiotics include raw sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha tea, miso, whole fat yogurt, and kefir. You also might consider supplementing with prebiotics to help your gut flora flourish.
How to Boost Digestive and Immune Health
Focusing on a balanced gut flora is key for the health of your digestive tract and immune system. Both probiotics and prebiotics can help to ensure your gut is functioning properly.
Probiotics (bacteria that are beneficial for your gut) help the body distinguish between pathogens and antigens, decreasing the likelihood of developing a food allergy or sensitivity and maintaining proper balance of gut flora. Prebiotics can be thought of as food for probiotics (the good bacteria in your gut); prebiotics are foods (typically high-fiber foods) that help to improve the balance of your gut bacteria. Both prebiotics and probiotics can be introduced into your diet in food or supplement form.
Other important factors that can affect your gut flora include antibiotic overuse and chronic stress, both of which can lead to impaired gut and immune function. Food intolerances can also do damage to your gut ecosystem; to uncover food intolerances, an elimination diet and/or food allergy testing can be quite helpful.
Proper management of diarrhea is also important for maintaining digestive and immune health. Diarrhea can cause you to lose the beneficial bacteria that keep your gut functioning properly. Proper hydration and DiaResQ, which provides beneficial nutrients and immune factors, can help relieve diarrhea and support getting your gut and immune system back on track.