We’re a lot more aware of immune systems and immunity these days and there’s been a big focus on medical means to keep us safe over the last few years. However, we could also give some thought to lifestyle factors within our control to keep ourselves healthy and our immune system in the best possible condition.
With 70-80% of the immune system residing in the gut, perhaps that is an obvious place to start. Within our gut are thousands of different microorganisms – bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microbes. This is known as our microbiome, and we have about 10 times more microbial cells than human cells – we are more microbes than we are human. The microbiome is intricately connected with the workings of our immune system.
The makeup of our microbiome is determined by what we eat, or rather what our gut microbiome eats and that influences our health outcomes.
While we might know that what we eat can affect our weight, digestion, energy levels, mood, and more, it’s the fibre and complex carbohydrates that our own cells can’t digest that feeds the favourable bacteria in our gut and promotes a healthy microbiome, reducing inflammation and helping to regulate the immune system to respond appropriately to injury or infection without attacking healthy body tissue.
When its all going well, the gut supports healthy immune function while the immune system helps to populate the gut with healthy microbes. When communication between the two is interrupted, we get problems. If the balance is disrupted by, for example, poor diet, antibiotics, surgeries, heavy metals, or chemotherapy, the diversity of the microbiome is reduced and so is immune health.
The Zoe Covid Symptom study, supported by the UK Government Department of Health and Social Care and endorsed by NHS Wales and NHS Scotland, released their findings last year in the largest study in the world examining links between diet and Covid19. They found people who ate a gut-friendly diet including lots of plants were 40% less likely to have severe Covid symptoms or require hospital treatment than those who ate an unhealthy diet.
Paying attention to how you eat can change your health outcomes and your immune system function by promoting more diverse microbial cells.
As a starting point, here are some basics for gut health and therefore immune health:
- Tidy up your diet. Eliminate processed foods and additives including sugar, wheat flour and corn starch which feed dysbiotic (bad) bacteria.
- Focus on wholefoods and wide variety of vegetables. The more diverse your diet, the more diverse your microbiome. The typical Western diet is usually quite limited and its estimated around 75% of the world’s food is made from 12 plant and 5 animal species. Focus on high fibre plant foods, whole fruit, healthy fats and moderate protein.
- Fermented foods can help repopulate the gut with probiotic bacteria if there is no fungal or candida overgrowth. If fermented foods don’t sit well or you know there is a candida issue, talk to me about how to address that first.
- Ensure you have enough fibre. The average Western fibre intake is around 5-10g a day while its recommended you get 20-25g a day. Increase your fibre intake slowly to avoid any problems.
- Reduce chronic ongoing stress. Stress slows down gut function so try gentle movement like Vinyasa yoga, walking in nature, meditation and breathing exercises or mindfulness techniques to help.
- Get quality sleep. Without enough sleep, immune system function is compromised, inflammation increases, and gut function slows down.
These days, gut issues are incredibly common – and they are compromising your immune system. Although they are common, know that issues like dysbiosis, leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome, SIBO, which can be characterised by symptoms like bloating, constipation, and diarrhoea, are not normal and can be addressed with specialist help.
If these symptoms sound familiar to you and you want to know more about how to address them, get in touch.