It was Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, who first said, “All disease begins in the gut”. What he meant was that our gut is intrinsically linked to our immune system. In fact, more than 70 percent of our immune system is IN our gut!
This may be hard to imagine, but the walls of your entire gastrointestinal system are home to organisms known as microbiota, or gut flora. We have larger number of bacteria in our gut than anywhere else in the body. You have about 1.5kg of bacteria in your body!
Many of these cells that make up your immune system. Scientists now know that gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) is the main type of tissue lining the gut, representing almost 70% of the entire immune system. It’s also known that about 80% of our white blood cells (which are our main immune cells) live in this tissue.
Where Do Gut Bacteria Come From?
Your gut bacteria begin to develop immediately after you’re born, thanks to both the birth process and the breast milk you receive from your mother. Of course, these bacteria change as we grow and develop. The health of your gut bacteria is influenced by everything you face in daily life – diet, age, gender, stress, your environment – and everything you touch or smell.
Scientists have now found that our gut bacteria paint a very accurate picture of your overall health and wellbeing. Many of the digestive problems you have are often linked to much more serious conditions affecting the gut. This can include food allergies, behavioral disorders, mood changes, autoimmune disease, arthritis, chronic fatigue, skin disorders and even cancer.
What Is Gut Imbalance?
When our gut bacteria are “in balance”, it means we have plenty of beneficial bacteria flourishing and bad bacteria is kept to a minimum. An imbalance, on the other hand, means that we have an overgrowth of bad bacteria, which is threatening the ability of beneficial bacteria to do their work. This is also referred to as ‘dysbiosis’.
Candida overgrowth is one of the most common examples of gut dysbiosis. Candida albicans is a yeast that lives naturally in the gut, where it is usually kept under control by good bacteria. However, in the case of bacterial imbalance, the candida yeast grows and spreads throughout the body, causing all sorts of havoc.
How Does Gut Imbalance Affect Your Immune System?
Your gut has a million jobs to perform every day in order to keep your body healthy. These include digesting the food you eat, absorbing nutrients from that food, fighting off pathogenic bacteria, flushing out toxins, and producing vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. Your immune system can’t function without the work your gut bacteria does in detoxifying and nourishing your body.
Studies have shown that the bacteria in our gut interact with our immune system cells. This interaction has developed as our diets and lifestyles have evolved over time. The bacteria have the tricky job of both fighting off harmful pathogens and creating the right conditions for healthy organisms. We need our immune system to recognize and kill the pathogens that make us ill, while at the same time allowing beneficial bacteria to flourish so they too can do their job.
But when pathogens and yeast get out of control, they throw everything out of balance. It’s much more difficult for the immune system to function properly because the good bacteria are weakened by the powerful pathogens.
One of the worst offenders to your immune system is the Candida albicans yeast. Candida is especially damaging to the valuable immune system cells lining the walls of your gut. The yeast can invade the immune cells, disrupting their normal activity and preventing them from fighting the harmful invaders that make you sick.
The first signs of gut imbalance caused by Candida overgrowth can be digestive symptoms such as indigestion, constipation or diarrhea. If untreated, these problems can progress into serious conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, gastroenteritis, or even inflammatory bowel disease. Other disorders linked to gut dysbiosis include arthritis, asthma, autism, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, mood disorders, fatty liver disease and even Alzheimer’s.
How Can You Re-Balance Your Gut Bacteria?
One of the most important factors in gut health is diet – after all, you are what you eat! Everything that enters your gastrointestinal tract will have an impact on your gut bacteria. Along with diet are some important supplements such as probiotics and lifestyle changes.
If you eat wholesome, natural foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts and lean protein, you’ll reap the benefits of a healthy gut. But if you regularly eat foods that are high in sugar and saturated fat, or you take a lot of medications, your gut bacteria will be weakened – and so will your immune system.
These foods destroy the good bacteria in the gut by feeding the bad bacteria. Candida in particular thrives on sugar, and quickly grows out of control when there’s a constant supply of sugar to the gut.
Medicines such as antibiotics and other drugs can also disrupt the balance of gut bacteria. Although medication is necessary at certain times, it’s important to restore the balance by following up with a healthy diet. Probiotic supplements and fermented foods also help to counter the damage.
Taking probiotics is one of the most effective ways to restore the healthy balance of gut bacteria needed for a strong immune system. Certain strains of probiotics not only help to counteract bad gut bacteria, but “re-plant” the beneficial bacteria needed for good health. Clinical studies have also shown that taking probiotics can help decrease hyperpermeability of the gut lining, which is necessary to prevent pathogenic bacteria passing through the barrier.
Probiotic supplements can be taken either in capsules or freeze-dried powder form. Be sure to read the manufacturer’s label carefully to see if the supplements are sufficiently high in numbers to have a therapeutic effect. Products that have a “guaranteed potency” are generally the best option.
Fermented foods are also an excellent source of probiotics. An added bonus is that they also contain prebiotics, the ‘food’ that healthy bacteria need to grow and develop. Fermented foods include both dairy and vegetables, such as yoghurt, kefir, miso, sauerkraut and kimchi.
Balanced Bacteria Mean A Healthy Immune System
Good health begins with a good balance of healthy bacteria. Our bodies can only function properly if the right fuel is being produced by our gut – and the right fuel is only produced if our gut bacteria is in good shape! Our gastrointestinal tract is so much more than just a place for our food to go – it’s also the place where most of our immune system does its work.
The next time you’re tempted by a packet of biscuits or a bottle of soda (or both!) think of what it will do to those precious immune system cells. Are those sugary treats worth getting sick?
For more tips on restoring the balance to your gut flora (and improving your immune system!) check out the Ultimate Candida Diet plan.