The conversation around building robust immunity has skyrocketed recently- with more people than ever proactively taking steps to ensure a strong immune system. Yet there is a critical and often missing piece of this conversation. It is the link between our gut and our immune system.
It has become a commonly accepted idea that around 80% of the immune system is housed in the gut, but that only scratches the surface around the gut-immune access. The overall impact of the gut-immune relationship on our health is astronomical.
The relationship between the gut and immune system is so strong that the health of the gut determines the strength, resiliency and efficacy of the immune system.
Exploring the connection between the gut and immunity offers tangible steps you can take to have a thriving immune system and robust health as we enter into the colder months.
In the context of immunity, an important feature to know about the gut is that it serves as a physical barrier. The gut is meant to be separate from the rest of the body. It is selectively permeable and allows certain nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and amino acids to pass into the bloodstream and enter circulation. We begin to run into problems when the barrier between the gut and the rest of the body becomes compromised. This is known as leaky gut.
What Is Leaky Gut?
More formally known as intestinal permeability, leaky gut is when particles and organisms that make up the gut microbiome that are meant to be contained in the gut, pass through the intestinal barrier and enter into the blood and thus systemic circulation.
The cells of the intestines are held together by a type of ‘glue’ called tight junctions. When the integrity of these tight junctions is compromised we begin to see gaps in-between intestinal cells. It’s through these gaps that the bacteria from the gut microbiome and large particles of undigested foods can then pass into the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body.
The Connection Between Leaky Gut and Immunity
One of the main functions of the immune system is to recognize and eradicate pathogens and incoming foreign particles. The molecules and microbes that pass through the gaps in intestinal cells are recognized by the immune system as foreign- and thus they trigger an immune response.
When there is a consistent influx of foreign particles into the body as seen in leaky gut, our immune system is thrown into overdrive.
The end result is that we end up with an overactive immune system. Inflammation is part of a healthy immune response. However, when we have an overactive immune system, we experience chronic low grade low grade inflammation. Consistent low grade inflammation is a known risk factor for disease and has detrimental consequences on the health of individuals.
This hyper activation of the immune system doesn’t serve us, and on the contrary- actually predisposes us to infections and illness.
Unlike muscle where the more we use and stress it, the bigger and more functional it becomes, the immune system gets tired at a certain point and begins to under function.
Just like we burn out when we are expending too much energy without compensating and balancing with adequate rest, so does our immune system.
A ‘burnt out’ immune system is referred to as being immunosuppressed or having a suppressed immune response. When this happens, the immune cells simply cannot be made in the body at the rate that is required and oftentimes, when this goes on for a while the structure of immune cells also become compromised and immune cells become less effective at their jobs.
This means we miss harmful bacteria and viruses that come in or cannot inactivate/kill them fast enough and they then proliferate (multiply) and we experience symptoms.
We also are unable to neutralize inflammation. Since every disease and illness has an inflammatory component this is an important piece of information. Inflammation feeds inflammation. When we have inflammation that the body is not able to take care of, the result is more inflammation and we get caught in this cycle that overtime, inhibits the creation of immune cells, causing immunosuppression.
The take away: When particles and organisms that are supposed to stay in the gut enter into the body, we see a weakened immune system.
What are the Symptoms of Leaky Gut?
The symptoms of leaky gut are vast. From a digestive perspective bloating, constipation, diarrhea and large particles of food or mucus in stool are common. Because of the inflammatory nature of leaky gut it can trigger joint pain, skin issues and headaches.
How do We Resolve Leaky Gut?
The resolution of leaky gut is in strengthening the tight junctions - the ‘glue’ that holds the intestinal cells together. We can do this through food and supplementation.
From a dietary point of view, eating foods rich in collagen and gelatin work to repair the lining of the gut wall. We love bone broths and gelatin gummies!
Helping the body to up-regulate its own collagen production will also provide the building blocks to strengthen the tight junctions and inhibit the formation of gaps in the intestinal wall. We can do this through consuming adequate protein and increasing Vitamin C intake.
We love Lypo-Spheric Vitamin® C as it has a high bioavailability and delivers vitamin C straight into the cells that need it the most.
In addition to supporting healthy tight junctions, vitamin C is well known for its positive effects on the immune system and its ability to help regulate inflammation.
Next up, we have L-Glutamine. This is an amino acid that acts as the primary food source for the cells of the intestines. Glutamine repairs the barrier of the intestine and works to reduce localized inflammation. Since inflammation is a trigger of leaky gut- it can both prevent and manage intestinal permeability. Glutamine optimizes gut barrier function and therefore directly impacts the immune system in a positive manner. Our top pick is AORs L-Glutamine Powder that can easily be mixed into your morning beverage.
Since leaky gut and inflammation go hand in hand, utilizing nutrients that both have an affinity for the gut and for quenching inflammation are key to optimizing the gut-immune connection. Curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory that not only prevents leaky gut from occurring and reduces systemic inflammation but also works to reverse leaky gut through several mechanisms. AOR Curcumin Ultra is our top pick as it is highly bioavailable and made with industry leading technology.
Taking steps to optimize gut health, is taking a massive leap in restoring immunity. Having a healthy and functioning gut is critical to having a robust immune system. Increasing vitamin C, glutamine and curcumin along side protein and collagen if you experience leaky gut will up level your digestive health and in turn boost your immune system.
Next week we will be talking about how the composition of our microbiome influences the immune system as well. The gut and immunity are highly interconnected- and it is the missing piece for many! See you there.
Author: Lisa Kowalyk, CNP