5 top tips to keep your gut bugs working for you and keep your immune system in great shape.
Whether your focus is on wellness and peak performance or prevention and alleviation of symptoms, we are now discovering that the health of our Gastrointestinal (GI) microbiome is crucial for our vitality and wellbeing.
Inflammation; friend or foe?
The classical components of inflammation include heat, redness and pain and loss of function. If you’ve ever scratched your hand or cut your knee you will have experienced this process first hand.
The inflammatory response is our body’s first response. Just like the emergency services, inflammation is the first on the scene of an attack.
The fire within - when Inflammation lasts too long
Inflammation is a vital process to ensure we fight against any invading bacteria or virus that could cause us harm.
The problems arise when the inflammatory response becomes persistent or chronic. It may affect our energy or pain levels and impact on our performance.
1/ Nourish and support your gut microbes
It’s all about the microbiome. Simply put, the quality of our gut microflora may influence our immune response in a positive or a negative way.
Our beneficial bacteria produce short chain fatty acids which have the potential to reduce inflammation and modulate the immune system in a more anti-inflammatory way.
Conversely, when our microbiome shifts towards an over prevalence of bad bugs, known as dysbiotic or pathogenic bacteria, this may have the reverse effect. They activate pro inflammatory processes which might then trigger inflammation or inflammatory conditions such as allergy and asthma.
2/ Protect the intestinal barrier
To understand the relationship between our digestive function and our immune system we need to look a little deeper at the structure of the gut lining.
The GI mucosa - or lining – of our digestive tract is similar to the tissue in our nose. It is here that the nutrients in our food are absorbed so it’s crucial for our quality of life that the structure of this intricate layer is in optimal condition and well protected by a good quantity of beneficial bacteria.
This delicate layer is the front and centre of our immune system and is our first line of defense against attack.
3/ Reduce exposure to environmental triggers
Our modern world issues numerous challenges to our immune system every day. We are exposed to an ever-increasing number of chemicals in our environment; air pollution, heavy metals, medications, cigarettes and alcohol. On top of this are the airborne allergens; pollen, mould, dust.
In addition, our Western diet has become increasingly inflammatory, with trans fatty acids and refined flour forming a high percentage of the foods we eat. Many of us eat quickly in a high stress environment, perhaps sitting at our desk at work, a recipe for digestive issues to arise.
4/ Eat plenty of anti-inflammatory foods
The best foods to include are sources of omega-3 such as salmon, flaxseed, chia seed and walnut. Plenty of antioxidant rich veggies and good quality olive oil, garlic, and purple fruit.
Good quantities of prebiotics and probiotic supplementation or food and drink may also support anti-inflammatory processes[i] and ensure our digestive and immune system stay in great shape and continue to support and defend us in the best way possible.
5/ Include probiotics to support reduction of inflammatory markers
Lactic acid producing bacteria (LAB) like Bacillus Coagulans are of particular interest due to their potential to modulate the immune system and anti-inflammatory effect.
Researchers in a 2010 study examined the effects of Bacillus Coagulans on the symptoms and measures of functional capacity in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. The probiotic was taken alongside the prescribed pharmaceutical medications.[ii] They reported significant improvements.
This study suggests that probiotics may offer anti-inflammatory support and alleviation of symptoms. This could mean the difference in being able to get up and about and join in daily activities and may offer a better quality of life to those with inflammatory conditions.
Quenching the fire
Inflammation is a crucial function which protects our bodies from harm. If our gut bacteria are not in good shape and we eat a largely processed diet, our immune system may shift out of balance and trigger inflammation we don’t want or need.
Although more research is needed, we are now discovering that taking great care to support our gut microbiome may be a vital part of maintaining our immune health.
If you experience any of the symptoms or conditions in this article, we recommend you discuss treatment options with your GP as well as with a registered Nutritionist specialising in gut and immune health. Your nutritionist will work alongside you and your GP to give you the best and safest support possible.
[i] Manfred L et al. Probiotic supplementation affects markers of intestinal barrier, oxidation, and inflammation in trained men; a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2012 9:45 https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-9-45
[ii] Mandel DR, Eichas K, Holmes J. Bacillus coagulans: a viable adjunct therapy for relieving symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis according to a randomized, controlled trial. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2010;10:1. Published 2010 Jan 12. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-10-1