Many of you might also be really surprised to hear that the gut is our largest immune organ, accounting for around 80% of our immune cellular hard wiring in the body.
YOUR NATURAL ARMOUR
Although we have a complex immune system and an incredibly advanced brain, your natural armour has been right in front of us all along: in our gut. In this article, Gut health specialist Eve Kalinik explains how the gut-immune link works and ways to support it.
When it comes to impressive stats our gut could be considered top of the league. The fact we are as much bacteria as we are human almost sounds like a sci-fi movie and the realisation that many of our neurotransmitters are produced mostly in our gut is truly mind-blowing. Many of you might also be really surprised to hear that the gut is our largest immune organ, accounting for around 80% of our immune cellular hard wiring in the body. And whilst we have other physical and mucosal barriers working to protect us including the skin and saliva most of our body’s natural armour is located within the gut.
Here’s how it works…
Firstly let’s look at GALT, or gut-associated lymphoid tissue, which is scattered throughout our gut and is an essential part of our gut’s immune system. GALT produces secretions such as SIgA (secretory immunoglobulin A) which can neutralise unwelcome invaders such as pathogenic bacteria, and has a second layer of defence in the form of an army of immune cells including T & B cells and macrophages that target and destroy any possible threats. GALT also relies on intricate conversations between our gut microbiome and immune cells to distinguish friend from foe and act appropriately.
Indeed, it is our gut microbiome that has a ‘Major Tom’ leading role including producing substances that it uses to signal directly to immune cells as well as providing a ‘boot camp’ to educate our immune cells to differentiate between beneficial and potentially pathogenic microbes. The role of the gut microbiome is therefore of paramount importance for healthy immune system regulation.
The other crucial layer of the gut-immune link lies in the intestinal epithelial barrier and it is actually only one cell thick. In fact, our gut barrier is essentially what separates our external world from our internal one and it also has a rather paradoxical role in that on one hand it needs to be permeable enough to extract the nutrients from our food but on the other, it also needs to harmful molecules breaching that defence. This is why we need to aim for a gut barrier that is both flexible and simultaneously vigilant.
However, sometimes our gut barrier can be compromised due to various factors such as imbalances in the gut microbiome, high ultra-processed food intake, chronic stress, exposure to chemical toxins, genetic predispositions and certain medications to name a few.
These challenges can potentially lead to something called increased intestinal permeability, often referred to as ‘"leaky gut". This essentially means substances such as potential pathogens, protein molecules and pro-inflammatory chemicals escape the confines of the gut which creates more of a systemic inflammatory situation in the body and unlike Las Vegas it really isn’t the case of what happens in the gut stays in the gut.
In fact, although a leaky gut has been linked to many gastrointestinal conditions, it has also been associated with a whole bunch of other inflammatory and/or autoimmune conditions including Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and even depression.
VALUE YOUR DEFENCES
All being well and in a healthy gut-immune response our gut microbiome, immune system and the gut barrier work together seamlessly and there are ways in which we can best support this process...
EMBRACE PLANT DIVERSITY
Eat the rainbow might sound a bit cliched but this helps us to naturally increase our plant diversity which in turn supports a more diverse, heterogenous, and healthier gut microbiome and immune system. Ideally, we want to aim for 30 plants a week. With this in mind consider making up nut & seed mixes that you can sprinkle over soups, salads, cooked vegetables, overnight oats and more. Vegetable boxes are another really easy way to get some natural rotation.
Try this Roasted courgette salad recipe which contains no less than eight plants.
INCLUDE GUT-IMMUNE NOURISHING FOODS
Such as organic bone broth, fermented foods, all types of mushrooms especially the funkier ones like shiitake as well as pumpkin and sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts, salmon, mackerel, prawns, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, spinach, apples and spices such as turmeric that contain vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, amino acids and types of fibre that all help to support the health of the gut and the immune system. Try making up a stewed apple compote with cinnamon that you can serve alongside breakfast or as a tasty snack. Or why not give this curry a whirl.
Macarel Curry with Coconut Cauliflower Rice
EAT WHOLE FOODS
As much as possible as this will naturally reduce the intake of ultra-processed food and the chemicals associated with them that can be both detrimental to the gut microbiome and the gut barrier. Cooking from scratch will mean you will invariably swerve the ultra-processed foods and it’s a great way to connect with your food. Swap shop-bought breakfast cereals that can often be highly processed for:
Banana miso cream and peanut butter oats
The perfect way to have your gut and immune system off to a flying start!
Now whilst I’m all for a glass of wine in moderation alcohol can have a damaging effect on the gut microbiome and the gut barrier so we do need to think about our consumption mindfully. Try swapping your usual tipple for kombucha which provides a natural source of beneficial bacteria. My tip here is to always check it has sediment at the bottom so it hasn’t been too heavily filtered.
Here’s a delish Passion fruit booch-tini recipe if you need some more inspiration.
ADD TO THE ARMY
Using a clinically backed probiotic such as KÄLLA FOR IMMUNE can give your internal microbial army some extra reserves and support the vital role of the gut microbiome in maintaining a robust natural armour. Click here to buy
Eve Kalinik, Gut Health Specialist
Nutritional Therapist, Author and Podcaster, Eve Kalinik believes that having a healthy gut is fundamental to our overall well-being. She is a registered member of (BANT)(CNHC) and accredited by (IFM).