We often think of getting sick as the result of being run down, catching bugs, and being cold. But really, the key reason we catch colds and flus is dependent on whether we have a compromised immune system or a strong one. A major, but lesser known, avenue that works to boost and strengthen our immune system is our gut health. Compromised gut health will often mean a compromised immune system, yet another reason our gut is so central to our wellness!
Let’s take a look at:
The link between gut health and immunity
Food: The single biggest demand on our immune system is from the food we’re eating
Top tips for taking care of our gut and boosting our immunity
We're going to take a look at why the gut is linked to immunity. We'll also give you some pointers for improving your health (via what we eat!) in the lead-up to winter so you're prepared for seasonal bugs and can maintain that level of health all year-round.
Gut health and immunity
It can feel like a far out thought that our gut health is linked to our immunity, but it's yet another example of how all is connected within our body and our interactions with the outside world when it comes to wellness.
When our gut health is poor, it places added stress on our immune system and it then becomes overactive and weakened. This is problematic in the cooler winter seasons particularly as there are simply a greater number of colds and flu we are exposed to.
But why does this happen? 80% of the humoral immune system (responsible for the creation of antibodies) is located in our gut. When we eat our body's immune system is constantly assessing whether the food is an invader or a food. When we eat foods that harm our gut health, such as processed foods, sugar, coffee and alcohol, they are tagged as invaders and activate our immune system. What this means is the single biggest demand on our immune system isn’t from environmental factors like germs or bugs. It’s actually from the food we’re eating!
When we eat foods that negatively impact our gut health this places our immune system on constant alert and it becomes overactive and weakened. Then when we come into contact with a virus our weakened immune system doesn't have the strength to fight off the bug. So, nurturing our gut health means our immune system doesn't have to work so hard and can focus on keeping us well against viruses and bacteria instead. Interesting stuff huh!
If we eat foods and nutrients that support our gut health, we will be less susceptible to illness. Key nutrients to look out and load up on include vitamin D- and zinc-rich foods. The notion that gut health is connected to our total health - including immunity - dates back as far as ancient Greece and if there’s a way we can eat our way to wellness, we’re on board!
Some key foods that support our good gut health include;
- Probiotic foods such as sauerkraut and kombucha
- Prebiotic foods such as legumes, onions and garlic
- Foods rich in vitamin D such as oily fish (sardines and tuna) and eggs
- Foods rich in zinc such as oysters, red meat and nuts and seeds
Antibiotics, gut health and our immunity
Antibiotics are undoubtedly necessary for some circumstances. They do however have huge implications on gut health because they’re not sophisticated enough to identify good vs bad bacteria. So, when they’re killing bugs like those that give us strep throat or tonsillitis, they also wipe out the good bugs that make up our good gut bacteria. Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride is a gut health specialist and founder/author of the GAPS diet. She says it can take up to four years to restore and rebuild the gut microbiome following a course of antibiotics.
If you do require antibiotics, ensure you drink bone broth or include collagen in your routine to support healing and sealing your gut lining and consume a diet rich in probiotic foods including yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut or add in a quality probiotic once you’ve completed your dose of antibiotics.
Fun fact - other common foods like potatoes can be great for our gut health especially if they’re cooked, cooled, and then reheated! This is because the level of resistant starch in a potato that has been cooked and then cooled down rises significantly and this starch is a probiotic.
Leaky gut and immunity
Leaky gut is when half-digested food particles pass through the intestinal lumen or ‘gut lining’ into the bloodstream. If we are eating food we are intolerant to - or simply eating too much of certain foods, particularly proteins - our body tags that protein as an invader and alerts our immune system which issues a response. In this way, immunity and gut health are directly linked.
When our immune system is overworked dealing with ‘invaders’ caused by a leaky gut, this can compromise our immune system and lead to us catching those nasty colds easily. While leaky gut can sound serious, it can be managed at home via diet and lifestyle tips to nurture your leaky gut back to health.
So, what can we do to take care of our gut and boost our immunity?
- Ensure we have enough vitamin D! Vitamin D strengthens the cell wall of our gut, which in turn prevents foods from passing through and activating our immune system too much. Because a major source of vitamin D is from the sun, adding in some extra support with a quality vitamin D supplement is an easy win.
- Ensure our zinc levels are topped up! Zinc is crucial to our gut health and immunity and is responsible for over 200 enzyme pathways in our body. It also plays a vital role in the production of healthy digestive enzymes that support our gut and immunity.
- Eat a diet rich in probiotic foods including sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, and fermented vegetables to promote a healthy and diverse number of good bacteria in our microbiome and feed the good guys!
Drink bone broth or take a quality collagen supplement, both of which work to heal and support the integrity of our gut lining, repairing the damage caused by leaky gut.
- Take a quality probiotic and ensure your digestive enzymes are working hard so your stomach can break down food to absorb nutrients.
- Eat a nutrient-dense diet that is right for you to ensure you feel fuller, longer. Eating in a way that promotes blood sugar balance will help relieve some of the stress your body is under, meaning it is better able to fight colds.
- Prioritise sleep. Adequate rest helps our body restore itself.
The Gut Health Pack is recommended by BePure as the first step in supporting your upper and lower digestive health: It contains BePure Two is an advanced daily probiotic with a minimum of 30 billion viable bacteria per serving. Digest Assist is an easy option for ensuring our digestive system is ready to receive food!