A healthy immune system is more important during times like these than ever before. We all want to do what we can to make our immune system as strong and healthy as possible. Prioritizing a balanced diet, getting good sleep, and regular fitness are all essential parts of a healthy immune system.
Did you know that the gut contains approximately 70% of the cells that comprise the human immune system? A healthy gut is essential to maintaining homeostasis in the body and diminishing risk of health conditions like autoimmune disease, diabetes, cancer, and more.
The gut is also an essential element of mental health. An unhealthy gut can exacerbate symptoms from conditions like anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Conversely, a healthy gut can help bolster good mental health.
What is Gut Health?
Everything that goes into the body passes through the gastrointestinal tract, where nutrients are absorbed into the body. Beneficial bacteria, known as “probiotic bacteria”, live in the lining of the stomach and intestine and aid in digestion and absorption. When the gut is in balance, trillions of probiotic bacteria help prevent infection and disease, regulate metabolism, and contribute to overall health and wellbeing. This entire system is known as a “microbiome”.
It helps to think of bacteria as gatekeepers that decide what passes through into the body and what is kept out.
Beneficial bacteria allow nutrients to pass (“good bacteria”) and weed out foreign particles and antigens (“bad bacteria”). Good bacteria fend off bad bacteria that can lead to an imbalance in the body and a compromised immune system.
This microbiome comprises the foundation of our immune system, and effectively “trains” the immune system’s response to what is absorbed into the body. When the gut is imbalanced, there is an abundance of bad bacteria which compromises the immune system and can lead to acute and chronic health conditions.
How To Know If Your Gut is Healthy
Every person’s gut microbiome is different, but there are some common symptoms of an unhealthy gut to be aware of:
Constipation: Constipation is sometimes caused by lower levels of a bacteria called Bifidobacteria, which is a healthy bacteria necessary to maintain gut balance. Studies have shown that probiotics can help soften stool1 and increase the number of bowel movements per week.
Diarrhea: Diarrhea can be caused by an overgrowth of bad bacteria, and this loosens stools and causes the body to expel some of the good bacteria needed to maintain a healthy gut..
Gas and Bloating: Gas is a normal part of the digestion and fermentation process in the gut, but if the gut is imbalanced it produces excess gas, causing uncomfortable bloating.
Food Sensitivity: Gluten, dairy and other food sensitivities are often associated with unhealthy gut bacteria.
Mental Health/Mood Disorders: A healthy gut contributes to the production of key neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which contribute to mental wellbeing. This imbalance can exacerbate mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
Weight Gain: Because gut bacteria are responsible for breaking down and absorbing food and nutrients, an imbalance in the gut can lead to weight gain.
How to Maintain Digestive Health
Even when not experiencing symptoms like the ones above, it’s important to maintain proper gut health. There are some key practices you can do daily to help heal your gut and maintain gut health.
Practice Healthy Habits: A balanced, healthy diet, regular exercise, hydration, and adequate sleep help support overall health and wellbeing, including in the gut. A balanced diet includes fiber, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains to help maintain gut health. Junk foods and beverages that contain saturated fat, sodium, and sugar reduce the presence of healthy bacteria and should be avoided or consumed in moderation. Excessive alcohol consumption and smoking also upset the balance in the gut. Foods like dairy, red meat, and refined sugar should be consumed in limited quantities.
Keep a Food Diary: If you are experiencing symptoms of an unhealthy gut, track your food intake in a daily diary. It’s especially important to track your fiber intake, as it plays an important role in a healthy gastrointestinal tract. In the food diary, make note of what you ate, and how your body responds as a result. Keep an eye out for patterns associated with foods, and make adjustments as needed.
Manage Stress: Stress levels have a direct impact on the gut, and chronic stress produces an inflammatory response in the body that can upset the balance of bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Incorporating stress reducing practices into your daily routine, like yoga, meditation, and breathwork can help with stress reduction.
Should I Take Probiotics?
There are many probiotic products on the market, and it can be confusing to know which one is right for you. Probiotics are most commonly used to address intestinal disorders that are not associated with acute illnesses. Probiotics can help restore balance in the gut by secreting protective substances that may activate the immune system and restore gut balance. However, people who have immune deficiency or are being treated for cancer should not use probiotics without a doctor’s okay.
Probiotic supplements are not monitored by the FDA in the same way drug products are regulated, so it’s important to consult with a physician or pharmacist before deciding which probiotic is right for you. We are still learning about how probiotics may promote health.
Experts recommend trying natural food sources for probiotics before using probiotic supplements. Probiotics (good bacteria) are found in yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and miso.
Gut Health and Spinal Cord Injury
Spinal cord injury alters the balance of bacteria in the intestines, known as dysbiosis, which can hamper recovery from spinal injury (“SCI”). SCI negatively impacts the immune system, and as the gut microbiome makes up a large part of the immune system, studies were completed to review the gut’s role in overall immune system health and recovery from SCI.
Studies completed in animals showed that probiotics triggered the body’s immune response post SCI, which resulted in improved locomotor recovery. While it isn’t known precisely why this occurs, these studies suggest that restoring gut health to boost the immune system should be considered in recovery from SCI.2
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The material contained is for reference purposes only. Alliance Labs, LLC and Summit Pharmaceuticals do not assume responsibility for patient care. Consult a physician prior to use. Copyright 2020 Summit Pharmaceuticals and Alliance Labs, LLC.