Your gut plays an important role in the health of your immune system but is often underestimated and overlooked. Discover how you can support your intestinal health naturally and how it will strengthen your immune system!
How a healthy gut supports the immune system
Most people are told to wash their hands, exercise regularly, and prioritize sleep to support a strong immune system. In fact, it’s likely that you’ve been hearing these ‘tips' since you were a little kid. Yet, every year the dreaded cold season returns, and with it comes an itchy throat, stuffy nose, and headache. So you might be wondering what went wrong.
While those classic tips are impactful, when it comes to supporting your immune system, there's one organ in your body that actually plays a big role in your digestion, energy, and even your mood: The gut. And recent research suggests the gut also plays a big role in the health of your immune system as well. But why? And how...
Your gut has a huge impact on your overall health. In fact, it influences many functions in your body– including the immune system! And supporting your gut health is one of the easiest things you can do to fight against the common cold.
Read on to get our tips for supporting your interstitial health so you can stay healthy this season.
What are some signs that your gut and your immune system may be out of sync?
When your gut is out of balance, your body will send you signals to let you know it needs support. Here are a few signs that your gut is out of balance.
- You feel tired after eating: if you notice a significant drop in energy after you eat, you may need to focus on your gut health. Your body (and gut) need time to digest the food and distribute the nutrients. However, if you feel the urge to take a deep nap after eating, your gut health may be the culprit.
- Bloating after a medium-sized meal: of course, your stomach will bloat a little if you've just eaten a meal– it's full, after all. However, excessive bloating and feelings of pressure is a telltale sign of a gut imbalance.
- Constipation: if you have to drink 3 cups of coffee every day to get going, something in your body needs support–and most likely it’s your gut.
- Headache and irritability: everyone can relate to feeling ‘hangry’ once in a while. But, if you are feeling especially irritable it may be because your stomach is tight, you feel tired, or bloated. These are clear signs you need to support your gut.
How are the intestine and the immune system linked together?
Immune cells are located along the mucosa lining the intestinal wall. They regulate the food components that enter your bloodstream, which is then transported to the cells, muscles, and organs.
If the intestinal wall is damaged and the intestinal bacteria cannot do their job optimally, unwelcome guests enter the bloodstream and trigger an immune reaction. The protective reaction (inflammation) ensures that these unwanted substances are destroyed, dissolved, and excreted. However, if the body is constantly busy reacting to the substances, the intestine has less energy to repair itself and preventively fight off unwanted substances.
Did you know?
70% of all immune cells are located in the small and large intestine; almost 80% of all defence reactions take place here, which is why the intestine plays a huge part in our immune system.
To support a healthy gut, you need to support your gut microbiome. Your microbiome is the TRILLIONS (yes, trillions!) of bacteria that call your body home (sounds gross, but it's true!). And scientists are now learning just how important these bacteria are, affecting everything from your metabolism to your mood. When it comes to supporting your microbiome, most people will tell you to take a probiotic, but the BEST food for your good gut bacteria is a special type of fiber called a "prebiotic."
What are the best foods to feed your gut bacteria and support your immune system?
If you want to feed and support your gut, look to Mother Nature to support you.
Some foods, such as celery, lemon balm, lemon, ginger, and apple (with the peel), contain substances that increase the release of digestive enzymes. This means that important nutrients can be broken down while you chew, and the dietary fibers enter the intestines as healthy bacterial food.
Generally speaking, fruits and vegetables that are naturally bright, colorful, and seasonal strengthen the gut.
Foods rich in prebiotic fibers, such as whole grains (cooked, sprouted, rolled, and soaked), bananas, potatoes, figs, and Jerusalem artichokes are also popular gut foods. Think of prebiotic fiber like food for your beneficial gut bacteria.
Fermented foods such as miso, yogurt, and pickled vegetables have a probiotic effect, directly supplying 'good' gut bacteria.
5 gut health tips from a nutritionist
Certified Nutritionist Samantha Frost gives you her top 5 tips to help support and strengthen your gut (and your immune system).
1. Make time for digestion
Try to leave at least 3 hours between your meals and snacks. This gives the intestines time to digest in peace and prepare the digestive system for the next meal.
2. Chew thoroughly
It's best to incorporate foods into your meals that you have to consciously and thoroughly chew. This strengthens the brain-gut axis and keeps your body in balance. Sam recommends fresh fruit and seeds for breakfast, leafy greens, nuts and lentils for lunch, chunky vegetables and whole grains for dinner
3. Flavor, flavor, flavor
Spice up your dishes with seasonings! Ginger, parsley, citrus fruits, mint, pineapple, green apples, radishes, and spicy sprouts and rockets are some of the best spices to pepper into your preparations. These ingredients activate the sense of smell and support the feedback and communication between the guts, the immune system, and the circulatory system.
4. Lots of sleep
The gut loves when you sleep. Just two consecutive nights of insufficient sleep can cause hormonal changes that affect appetite, mood, and the connecting link between brain and gut. If you struggled with restless sleep, don’t worry, we got you covered with some tips to sleep better.
5. Be on the move
No need for an over-the-top workout, a simple walk around the park or in your favorite neighborhood can do a lot of good to your body! Moving activates the immune, lymphatic, and hormonal systems and promotes communication between all of them.
Improving the health of your gut is not a race! Be sure to give yourself time to implement changes and try to stay focused on the big picture. The best place to start is with a healthy diet, as this is the nutrient base for all the energy needed for immune defense and digestion.