Do you find that you seem to pick up every bug doing the rounds? If you constantly hop from one cold to another, it could be a sign that your immune system isn’t functioning as well as it could.
When it comes to making improvements to your immune system, your gut health could hold the key.
How does your gut health affect your immune system?
Your gut is a complex system. It provides a home to trillions of microorganisms. These include different species of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes. To function at its best, the gut needs balance. While some of the bacteria in your gut could be ‘harmful’, a healthy gut will far outweigh this with ‘friendly bacteria’.
However, when there’s an imbalance, the bad bacteria can start to have a detrimental impact on your health. And, with 70% of the immune system located in the gut, it’s clear that taking care of your gut microbiome is a cornerstone of good health.
A healthy gut microbiome tends to include a wide range of different beneficial bacteria. This is important in helping regulate your immune system so that it can respond to injury or infection without attacking healthy body tissue.
What can happen if your immune system isn’t functioning well?
The immune system is your body’s defence against illness and infection. A complex system of cells, organs and proteins work together to defend against invading bacteria and viruses, while protecting the body’s cells.
Every time the immune system fights a microbe, it keeps a record so that it can destroy it faster in the future if exposed again. However, when the immune system is compromised, this system isn’t as effective and the body’s defence against illness is much lower.
You may find that you get sick more often, that you experience a range of inflammatory conditions, from digestive issues to skin problems, headaches, and fatigue. Scientists believe that a weakened immune system can also put you at greater risk of contracting, or experiencing complications from, more severe conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
How does the gut microbiome work to fight disease?
When a microbe enters the body, your antigen-presenting cells assess the danger. If they find a threat, a signal is sent to your T-cells to fight the microbe with an inflammatory response.
This reaction, although needed to destroy the invading microbe, can also do harm to the gut. To prevent this, the good bacteria in the gut help to soften the response, preventing tissue damage.
This regulation is only possible when there’s a good balance in the gut microbiome.
But if the balance of your gut has been damaged, these good bacteria aren’t able to help regulate your immune system response, and the results can include side effects such as bloating, constipation or diarrhoea or irritable bowel syndrome.
What can damage the gut microbiome?
The delicate balance of the gut can be impacted by lifestyle factors, such as stress, poor sleep, smoking or drinking too much. Prolonged use of medications such chemotherapy and antibiotics can also cause damage, harming the good bacteria, along with the bad.
Why is a diverse microbiome important for your immune system?
Research is constantly discovering information about the link between microbiome diversity and a healthy immune system. In a recent study, scientists looked at the relationships between gut health and the immune system in two groups of people given different diets over a 10-week period.
One group ate a diet with lots of fibre, while the other was given a diet high in fermented foods containing probiotics. In the group that ate fermented foods, microbiome diversity increased, while markers for inflammation in the body were reduced.
Is it possible to improve your immune system by improving your gut microbiome?
There are strong links between your diet, your gut health, and your immune system. Making changes to your diet can help to improve the gut microbiome and, in turn, strengthen your immune system.
However, your gut microbiome is complex and unique to you so there isn’t a one size fits all solution. Improving your gut health takes a holistic approach, including understanding the foods which work for and against, you, getting the right amount of sleep, reducing stress, staying active and hydrated, and introducing and feeding good bacteria through probiotics, prebiotics and fermented foods.