Our mission is to make Americans healthier through their gut. If you asked us why we are so passionate about all things gut health, we would tell you it’s because research proves that between 70% and 80% of the immune system is in the gut—so it’s an obvious place to start. The immune system is the universal barometer for all things “health,” after all. You might have even heard other’s talking about the importance of gut health, too. But what does this mean? How (and why) do gut health and the immune system work together?
If you were to group the different kinds of cells in your body together, you would have more bacterial cells than human cells. To be specific, your gut microbiome alone has around 150 times more genes than the human genome as a whole. That’s right, technically, you are more bacteria than human. Go ahead and wrap your mind around that, and then we can start talking about how all this bacteria plays such a critical role in your overall health.
What is the Gut Microbiome?
Let’s back it up. Your gut microbiome exists in a little pocket of the gastrointestinal tract in the digestive system. It’s home to the most complex microbiota in our entire body. To get pretty technical, the gastrointestinal tract is an open ecosystem that has more exposure to its external environment than any other part of the body. And because of this, the gut microbiome is shaped by factors like gender, age, geographic and socio-economic conditions, diet, and health conditions.
Historically, people have assumed that these diverse bacteria mind their own business on the intestinal walls– aiding in digestion and absorption of nutrients. But as researchers continue to study the bacteria in the gut, they’re learning that the gut microbiome interacts heavily with the immune system, and impacts our overall health more so than we thought.
How do Gut Health and the Immune System Intertwine?
The immune system’s main job is to prevent or limit infection. And it just so happens that between 70% and 80% of its cells live in the gut– protecting us from disease by responding to and eliminating any foreign bacteria that they see as a threat (you guessed it, infections). To function properly, the immune system must be able to maintain a balance between ‘tolerance’ and ‘reaction.’ If our immune system can’t distinguish between an infectious microbe and a beneficial one, then we’d be… for lack of a better term… screwed.
So how does it learn? This is where the gut comes to the rescue. A diverse gut microflora, that’s filled with all sorts of good bacteria, teaches the cells in the immune system that not every “foreign” microorganism needs to be attacked (the good bacteria in the gut reminds the immune system that it can chill out every so often). But when the gut microflora is imbalanced, it starts sending mixed messages to the immune system– throwing the immune system out of whack. Making communication crystal clear between these two is essential to maintaining a fully operational immune system.
When the immune system and gut are working together, you feel good. They encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria that help maintain stable immunity and gut function, improve responses to harmful pathogens while boosting tolerance to non-harmful ones. Additionally, the gut health and immune system relationship promotes ‘self tolerance,’ which prevents our immune system from attacking our own body.
From the moment we are born, our gut is the first line of communication between our body’s external environment and the immune system. For our whole lives, the two will work together to mutually regulate our body’s reaction to pathogens (both beneficial and harmful). Luckily, your behaviors play a role in keeping everything running smoothly (literally).
How to Improve Gut Health to Support Immunity
The gut helps us digest our food. And guess where the microbes in our gut are getting their nutrients? Ding ding ding, you nailed it. From whatever we’re putting inside it. It’s not shocking that the gut’s performance (and hence, your immune system’s too) is heavily influenced by your diet. When the gut is being fed garbage, it can’t communicate as well with the immune system. And then you feel like sh*t. Understood?
The gut and immune system are kind of like roommates–when one is being messy, the whole house becomes messy. They’ve got to work together to keep things under control. Once you can visualize that the quality of their relationship starts with gut health, you can see the importance of taking care of your gut. Luckily, we’ve caught up on all the best research surrounding ways you can give your gut the diverse, beneficial bacterial strains it needs to be able to do it’s best work with your immune system. From working out, to a healthy diet, to probiotics—you can count on us to be your guides to gut health.