I'm sure you've heard that supplementing with vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc, and iron are ways to 'boost' your immunity naturally (by the way, we can't boost our immune system but we can support it!) but have you ever considered your gut health and how that impacts your immune health?
First, we need to better understand the immune system itself.
It's primarily made up of:
𝐖𝐡𝐢𝐭𝐞 𝐛𝐥𝐨𝐨𝐝 𝐜𝐞𝐥𝐥𝐬, specifically T-cells, B-cells, natural killer cells, neutrophils, and monocytes/macrophages.
𝐀𝐧𝐭𝐢𝐛𝐨𝐝𝐢𝐞𝐬 produced in response to antigens, i.e. proteins on the surfaces of pathogens. Antibodies allow our bodies to fight pathogens that produce certain antigens.
𝐋𝐲𝐦𝐩𝐡𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐜 𝐬𝐲𝐬𝐭𝐞𝐦 that drains lymph fluid and regulates fluid levels in the body.
𝐂𝐨𝐦𝐩𝐥𝐞𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭 𝐬𝐲𝐬𝐭𝐞𝐦, which assists antibodies in clearing pathogens.
𝐒𝐩𝐥𝐞𝐞𝐧, which produces blood cells and filters blood to remove damaged or old cells.
𝐓𝐡𝐲𝐦𝐮𝐬, which produces white blood cells (T-cells) to help fight infection.
𝐁𝐨𝐧𝐞 𝐦𝐚𝐫𝐫𝐨𝐰, which produces red and white blood cells and platelets.
There are two parts to the immune system:
Innate/general- born with this, made up of physical barriers (think skin), cellular components, and humoral responses and acts immediately in response to pathogens.
Adaptive/specialized- highly specific responses to new pathogens through memory T-cells.
Now let's get to the gut-immune connection...
ℂ𝕣𝕒𝕫𝕪 𝕖𝕟𝕠𝕦𝕘𝕙, 𝟟𝟘% 𝕠𝕣 𝕞𝕠𝕣𝕖 𝕠𝕗 𝕥𝕙𝕖 𝕚𝕞𝕞𝕦𝕟𝕖 𝕤𝕪𝕤𝕥𝕖𝕞 𝕚𝕤 𝕙𝕠𝕦𝕤𝕖𝕕 𝕚𝕟 𝕥𝕙𝕖 𝕘𝕦𝕥!
A recent article in Cell Research support the gut-immune connection by saying "the microbiome plays critical roles in the training and development of major components of the host’s innate and adaptive immune system."
During our earlier years of life, our gut microbiota is highly influenced by our environment and what we ingest, thereby influencing our immune health as well. Factors of influence include type of birth (vaginal or C-section), being breastfed or not, early exposure to other children and the outdoors, antibiotic use, diet and food quality, and our geographic location. By the age of 3, our gut has reached a stable adult-life microbiome that needs continual support. If we grow up with limited exposure to these things and therefore have a diversely impaired microbiome, this "absence of commensal microbes is associated with profound intestinal defects of lymphoid tissue architecture and immune functions."
This picture below illustrates the interface at the intestinal wall and depicts the communication between the gut microbiome and immune factors in circulation.
Don't get too hung up on all the scientific jargon within the picture. It's main purpose is to prove my point that the gut-immune system does communicate with one another and each are influenced by the other!)
So, now let's chat about autoimmune conditions...
Autoimmune conditions can be inherited or developed overtime. Here, I'm going to talk about the conditions that can develop overtime as these are typically the ones that we can elicit the greatest positive impact on!
Generally, the body is designed to recognize healthy and harmful cells and proteins (i.e. your functioning immune system). When your gut microbiome is not in a healthy balance, the immune system doesn't function properly which can lead to discrepancies in what the body sees as healthy and harmful. The body then has the potential to attack any cell creating what we know as an autoimmune condition.
Autoimmune diseases can manifest in the:
Brain as MS, autism, or Guillain-Barre syndrome
Skin as psoriasis or eczema
Lungs as fibromyalgia
Nerves as neuropathy
Blood as lupus or leukemia
Gut as celiac disease, Crohn's, ulcerative colitis, etc.
Thyroid as Graves disease or Hashimoto's
Reproductive system as PCOS and ovarian autoimmune disease
𝐀𝐍𝐃 𝐒𝐎 𝐌𝐔𝐂𝐇 𝐌𝐎𝐑𝐄.
K, thanks for all the sciencey stuff, but what can I do to support a healthy gut and therefore a healthy immune system?
So glad you asked!
The right supplements can help (but not cure)- I always recommend a daily multi-vitamin, fish oil and a greens supplement (either capsule or powder). In the winter months or during flu season, I typically add in a vitamin C powder with my smoothies and add in extra zinc as well to support my immune system function. You could also do an entire immune system protocol to support your body during seasonal concerns. Always consult your primary healthcare provider to see if these supplements are right for you. Blood work helps as well to determine if you are truly deficient in these vitamins and minerals.
Let's discuss pre and probiotics- Probiotics are bacterial strains that can either support or impair your gut microbiome. I typically don't always recommend a probiotic because I like to look at someone's dietary and GI history first! The best way to know if you have a bacterial imbalance in your gut is to get a gut health test completed, which will show you what microbes inhabit your GI tract in what quantities. This test is a great one because it will also give you a comprehensive report with recommendations afterwards! A prebiotic couldn't hurt though! Prebiotics are fibrous components that come from plants and feed the bacteria within your gut. You can find prebiotics in fermented foods, most fruits and vegetables and some starches like oats, wheat, and chickpeas. You could always supplement with a prebiotic if you don't feel your diet offers enough variety. You can get 20% off your entire order with BIOHM Health using the code ALEXISFITCO.
The right nutrient intake can help- does your body digest/oxidize fat or carbs better? how much protein do you really need? what nutrient dense foods can you consistently eat in your daily routine? what's your stress load look like?
The right routines can help- the body LOVES consistency, with your sleep/wake schedule, your eating habits/timing, your job, your workouts, everything. Creating a consistent schedule for yourself can really help your body know it's in a safe space to work optimally!
The right coach can help- working with a registered dietitian or integrative health care practitioner that has experience working with gut health needs can be helpful for someone that needs more direction and guidance!
At the end of the day, it all comes down to managing and lowering stress, letting your body know it's safe, and if you have a trusted professional at your side, you can start to see real change in your life!