By Heather Drummond | Guest Writer
Did you know that your gut health and your digestive tract are closely tied to your immune system?
A lot of us don’t know but there is a strong link between the two. The digestive system is a long tube-like muscle composed of a lining that filters toxins out of our digestive system and into our bloodstream which takes it to our liver where “all the magic” is made. Hormones, digestive enzymes, and everything that is used in the body for repair and rebuilding first travel to the liver.
Nutrients are broken down from the food we eat, digested, and then sorted into what is needed for the body and what should be removed through the digestive tract. The liver is like a huge manufacturing and detoxification plant where many different jobs take place simultaneously. When our digestive lining becomes too permeable then it allows not just the good stuff into the bloodstream but also the things that are meant to be eliminated through the digestive tract and out of the body. A permeable lining is often called a “leaky gut.”
When this happens, the liver gets what it doesn’t want as well as what it wants, causing the liver to work even harder to process everything. The bloodstream which serves as the transfer mechanism from the digestive tract to the liver also becomes more burdened. When the bloodstream contains things that it should not, the body triggers the lymphatic system to kick in and go to work in an effort to clean the blood. When this happens, we often feel bloated. All this means that the whole system has more work than it should.
The lymphatic system is another part of our immune system that serves to keep viruses and bacteria out of the body. However, if it is busy cleaning the blood system, that adds an unnecessary burden on the body.
The bacteria in our digestive system or colon can also be out of balance. Some people know that as a yeast or Candida overgrowth, which can also be very taxing on our immune system. It can be contained in the bowel, or leaked into the bloodstream leading to a systemic infection. To work at their optimum, our bodies require a balance between “good” and “bad” bacteria.
Symptoms like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation, and diarrhoea can also be a sign that our health and immune system is having to work harder, or is being impacted by our stress, our environment, and diet. There are many ways we can support our immune system by supporting our gut health and digestive tract.
Whenever we do something supportive for our digestive system, we are also contributing to the healthy functioning of many other systems in our body including our mood, liver, skin, circulatory, lymphatic, and immune systems. There are different things we can do to achieve this.
5 Tips to Boost Your Immune System & Your Gut Health
These Nutrients Support Our Intestinal Lining
Supporting our intestinal lining is a great way to support our immune system. By keeping what is meant to leave the body inside our digestive tract, we reduce the burden on the lymphatic system.
The intestinal wall is a muscle that is also like our skin on the outside of our body. Just like a cut can become infected, we can also have microscopic tears in our digestive lining or disturbances such as diverticula or polyps that impact the digestive process and the ability to be “appropriately permeable.”
What are things we can do to support our lining? Nutrients that include omega fats, glutamine, and zinc as well as vitamin C and collagen are wonderful for our skin and the lining of our digestive tract. Foods like spinach, bone broth, seafood, eggs, brewers and nutritional yeast, nuts, seeds, as well as citrus and berries, are very high in these nutrients.
Eating a variety of foods that are as close to nature as possible means we are getting more nutritionally dense foods. Aloe Vera is wonderful for the skin inside and out, it can boost our white blood cells which is great for short-term use, especially if we are trying to fight an infection or wish to boost our immune system.
Preventing Candida Overgrowth
Candida or yeast overgrowth can easily sneak up on us. Antibiotics can be a culprit that can create an imbalance in our digestive tract bacteria causing some people to experience yeast infections or thrush when they take them. If these problems occur, chances are there is also an imbalance in the gut flora—a term that refers to the bacteria present in our gut. Our bodies contain many bacteria that are very good for our immune system, supporting our skin to our digestive tract.
One way to balance out the bacteria and prevent Candida or yeast overgrowth is to consume pure extra virgin coconut oil. Coconut oil contains a wonderful nutrient called caprylic acid that kills Candida. Aloe Vera gel or juice is also a great choice as it acts in the same way, killing Candida or yeast overgrowth. The process would take approximately 3 weeks. This is because our bodies require a break in between aloe Vera consumption to allow our immune system to kick in and balance itself.
Adding a probiotic supplement at a high dose, such as one containing up to 50 billion CFU of bacteria would also be helpful in balancing the “good” and “bad” bacteria in the digestive tract. By supporting the balance, we are reducing the impact of “bad” bacteria on the immune system, allowing the immune system to instead focus on protecting the body from viruses and bacteria.
Good Fats & Pectin to Encourage Healthy Bowel Movements
Making sure the bowels are moving properly is a great way to support the immune system. Foods like dark chocolate, nuts, seeds, avocados, bananas, and leafy greens contain magnesium which helps to relieve constipation. These foods also contain many beneficial fats which are vital for a healthy diet. Drinking enough water on a daily basis is also helpful to ensure your bowels are working at their optimum.
If struggling with diarrhoea, adding more water-soluble fibre to your diet may be helpful in relieving symptoms. Apples, apple sauce, leafy greens, bananas as well as citrus fruits, peas, berries, sweet potatoes, and green beans are full of pectin.
Make sure to choose fruits that have reached “perfect ripeness” as these contain the highest source of pectin. The softer the fruit or vegetable, the less fibre or pectin content it will have. When we have a “well-formed” daily bowel movement up to 3 times a day then we have achieved a healthy digestive system. When that happens, it means that our detox systems are working well, reducing the load on our overall body, while indirectly boosting the immune system.
Prebiotic and probiotic foods help support the “good” bacteria forming in our digestive tract. By always adding food containing “good” bacteria into our diet, we are supporting our immune system. Prebiotic foods are high-fibre foods.
A great deal of processed food does not have a high fibre content so choosing foods that are closer to nature is a great way of making sure you are making healthy choices for your body. Consider asking yourself: how far from the earth or the grower is the food you eat? Did it come from a farmer in its “original packaging” like the skin on a tomato? Or has it been put in a frozen lasagna months ago?
Do we have to make everything by hand? While that isn’t always possible, it’s a great thing to work towards. Maybe next summer you could consider starting a small garden. In the meantime, you could start buying some of your groceries from a farmer’s market. Start with becoming more aware of where your food comes from and go from there.
Some examples of probiotic food include apple cider vinegar, kombucha, un-sweetened yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi, among others. There are many exciting ways to incorporate these foods into your diet. Do your own research and experiment with them to determine whether you like any of them enough to add them to your regular diet. Your immune system will thank you!
Are You Making Enough Digestive Enzymes?
All these food suggestions above are wonderful, but what if we aren’t actually digesting them or breaking them down into a usable form for our liver? Undigested food actually feeds Candida and can cause problems with leaky gut. It could also be the reason why we experience irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or digestive disruptions. How do we fix this? Sometimes we have to take digestive supplements until we can start consistently supplying our liver with our own digestive enzymes.
A great digestive enzyme supplement is one that aids in the digestion of protein, fats, and carbohydrates with some even containing hydrochloric acid and bile as an extra boost. The more nutrient-dense our food is, the more likely it has the components in it to create a digestive enzyme. If you are wanting to purchase a supplement, consider taking a look at a brand that has good testimonials or check out the selections offered at your local health food store.
Incorporating one or all of these tips will help to strengthen both your digestive and immune systems. Pay close attention to your body as you make any new changes to your food or routine. By listening to our bodies, we can develop a wonderful partnership that helps keep the various systems working as they should.
* * *
How the Food You Eat Affects Your Gut
About the Author
Heather Drummond is a naturopath who is trained and certified in Holistic Nutrition, Reflexology, Acupuncture, various Energy Medicine and Vibrational Medicine modalities, Bach Flower Remedies, and “The School of Life.” Heather loves empowering people with tools to support themselves and their animals to reduce stress and optimize their well-being.