By Sally Pattison BAppSc, Adv. Dip. Nat, Adv. Dip. Nut
Did you know that approximately 80% of your immune tissue is located within your digestive system?
The digestive system comprises of cells, proteins, tissues and organs which work together in a complex way to defend the body against harmful bacteria, infectious diseases and toxins. Our bodies rely on proper enzymes and healthy microbes to work with pathogenic bacteria and to produce anti-bacterial cultures in order to strengthen the intestinal walls and to support our immune system.
All of the systems within your body work closely together to maintain optimal health, when one system is unbalanced it can trigger a domino effect; causing problems in other areas of your body and creating a cascade of chronic health complications.
Over time, disease-causing microbes accumulate. They affect our metabolic processes and even our gene activity, causing an abnormal immune response against the body’s normal tissues and substances.
Considering the fact that an estimated 80% of your immune system is located in your gut, ‘reseeding’ your gut with healthy bacteria is important for the prevention of virtually ALL diseases, from colds to cancer.
Immune system function:
The gut is often the first entry point for exposure to pathogens (bad bacteria and virus’ that can cause disease); therefore your gut immune system needs to be thriving and healthy in order to avoid illness.
In fact, the gut mucosa connects with the largest population of immune cells in the body. These are also known as gastrointestinal immune cells; which come from the lymphoid branch of the immune system. Their aim is to secrete lymphocyte cells which attack harmful invaders. These cells work together to protect the mucous membranes of the small intestines from infection. They do this by releasing specific white blood cells to defend the inside of the digestive tract from infection, as well as the damage that they cause to the intestinal walls.
Aside from containing specialized immune cells, the particular strains of friendly gut flora that reside within your intestines are also critical for overall immunity. These guys act as mighty warriors for the immune system, and are dependable allies for immune cells; helping them to enhance their “natural killer” effectiveness and boosting their overall defence of the intestinal walls to prevent pathogens and infections being absorbed. This is one critical reason why maintaining a healthy balance of good bacteria in the gut is so important. Without them, your immune system cannot do its job effectively, and in essence it is defenceless.
A variety of illnesses can occur when these protective functions of the gut are compromised. Intestinal permeability causes the immune system to go into overdrive; bringing on an unnecessary response against things like gluten, bad bacteria and undigested foods which have passed through these permeable holes in the gut lining. One of the first indications of leaky gut is the increase in food intolerances. If left unhealed, this can lead to immune abnormalities and eventually autoimmune conditions and other health issues. Some of these include inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, eczema, psoriasis, depression, migraine headaches, muscle pain and fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, type 1 diabetes, thyroiditis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, Crohn’s disease and Addison’s disease to name a few.
It’s only in recent years that scientists are beginning to discover the vital importance of the link between diet, gut bacteria and the immune system. Scientific evidence now shows that the types of food that you eat will directly determine the levels of certain bacteria in your gut.
Changing your diet will change the kind of bacteria that you have; which will either support the strengthening of your immune system, or deplete its defensive capabilities. Conclusions drawn from the current research all reveal that a healthy immune system is the result of a diet that supports healthy gut function: one that emphasises whole, unprocessed foods and one that helps to repopulate the gut with good bacteria.