Your gut health can impact your immunity. A doctor explains why

Our gut health is dependent on the balance of good bacteria but can this imbalance affect our immune system? A doctor provides insights into the topic.
gut health
Dr Dhanasekhar Kesavelu writes on the relationship between gut health and our immunity.
Dr Dhanasekhar Kesavelu Published: 21 Apr 2021, 04:54 pm IST
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Many people get surprised when they get to know this but our bodies house a wide array of micro-organisms, both inside and out. We have trillions of microorganisms such as viruses, fungi and bacteria within our body. Together all these organisms make up the human microbiome and are actually critical to our gut health. Some of the microorganisms cause diseases, but others are essential for regulating our immune function, metabolic health, weight management, mental health, autoimmune conditions and various other facets of health. 

In fact, over 5 percent of all microbes in the gut can cause diseases and these have been associated with 90% of human diseases, directly or indirectly.

Gut health and microbiome 

Most of the microbiomes found inside our bodies exist in our intestines and on our skin. In fact, these are unique to us. Almost 70% of our immune function lies in the gut and over the past few years, Gut Dysbiosis (i.e. microbiome imbalance) has been specifically linked to a number of diseases and conditions such as diabetes, anxiety/depression, obesity, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) etc. The cramps, bloating and abdominal pain experienced during IBS are often because of gut dysbiosis. This happens because microbes produce gas and other chemicals which cause the symptoms of intestinal discomfort.

gut health
Some herbs and spices can also help with better digestion naturally. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Gut health and immune function

The gut microbiome has a significant impact on our mental health and immunity levels. The microbiome transforms food particles into short-chain fatty acids, which in turn communicate with serotonin-producing cells.

Serotonin is basically a neurotransmitter and a hormone that regulates our moods along with the levels of anxiety and happiness. Another neurotransmitter, Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA), has the ability to regulate and improve moods as it helps to calm down the nervous system by turning off our stress reactions. In fact, some probiotic gut bacteria can themselves produce GABA for our body. A balanced diet enables these bacteria to protect our mental health because eating the right food feeds the good bacteria. 

The microbiome and the immune system are continuously shaping each other with the mutual objective to thrive. They together define the stable equilibrium of a healthy person. A disruption in the levels of the microbiome can lead to allergic diseases and asthma. Maintaining a healthy equilibrium of gut bacteria can help fight such illnesses. 

Gut health and food intolerance  

Many people exhibit chronic food sensitivity and it occurs when the body mistakes a harmless food protein as a threat. This results in inflammation and discomfort in many ways. 

gut health
It might not be a simple ‘stomach upset’ but lactose intolerance. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

IBD is a condition in which the gut tissues are chronically inflamed, leading to uncomfortable symptoms and poor nutrient absorption. This affects the gut microbiome balance and thereby, causes a range of health issues.

How to maintain a healthy equilibrium 
  • The microbes present within our gut dictate what we eat, our cravings and how hungry we feel. It’s essential to maintain a healthy microbiome diet in order to keep your gut healthy. This is where probiotics and prebiotics come in. Probiotics feed the bacteria present in our microbiome, improving its makeup and diversity. Researchers have found that both food forms and other probiotic supplements contribute to the maintenance of health. Fermented foods like kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and Greek yoghurt contain high levels of probiotic bacteria that heal better and more naturally than supplements, making them a great choice for a microbiome-friendly diet. 
  • Prebiotic fibre provides gut microbes with the energy that they need to grow and multiply. These fibres are fermented and broken down by the healthy microbes, in turn creating compounds–short chain fatty acids–which are beneficial for our health. Foods like raw or cooked onions, raw leeks, raw garlic, raw asparagus, bananas, radishes, tomatoes, berries, nuts, beans, flaxseeds and chia seeds are all rich sources of prebiotic fibre. 
gut health
Probiotics and prebiotics are a must for a good gut health. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
  • Avoid inflammatory triggers by avoiding the foods that your body is intolerant to.  
  • Avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics
  • Diversifying the foods that we eat can go a long way in providing us with a balanced gut microbiome.  In addition to a healthy diet, it’s important to exercise and stay active. 
Summing up 

The gut microbiome has a crucial role to play in our health because it controls digestion and hence, benefits our immune system along with other aspects of the body. An imbalance of healthy and unhealthy microbes in our intestines can cause high blood sugar levels, obesity, high cholesterol levels and other similar disorders.  Hence, to support the growth of healthy microbiomes in the gut, we need to regularly eat a good variety of vegetables, fruits, fermented food and whole grains. 

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About the Author

Dr Dhanasekhar Kesavelu, pediatric, Gastroenterologist, clinical advisor at MyDiagnostics ...Read More

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