Your body orchestrates countless systems, connections, interactions, reactions, and messages every second of every day. Science and research have merely touched the surface of what the body does and is capable of doing. One area that continues to be the subject of research and brand-new discoveries is the connection between your gut and your immune system.
Most people consider germs the ultimate enemy, especially in light of the recent pandemic. The approach is that pathogens of any kind are to be avoided at all costs, destroyed on sight, and feared. However, it is a fact that our bodies are made up of more bacterial cells than human cells, and they are necessary to be healthy.
Although bacteria are present on your skin, ears, and nose, your gastrointestinal tract is home to the bulk of the bacteria present in the body. In fact, over 100 TRILLION microorganisms reside there. This equates to a whopping 70% of your body’s total level of microorganisms. (1) “The GI tract not only contains a vast majority of the microbes that reside in the human body but also harbors probably the largest pool of the immune cells that are present in the body.” (2) The collection of protozoa, fungi, yeast, viruses, and bacteria is referred to as the microbiota. The microbiota is extremely important in many regards, but this article will focus on its influence on your immune system.
Exposure to Germs
Believe it or not, exposure to germs and bacteria is good for your immune system. The more exposures there are, the stronger your immune system becomes. Think about babies for a moment. Is it an accident that babies are constantly putting things in their mouths? Have you ever wondered why they do this? The answer may surprise you. Of course, they are developing their motor skills, but they are also innately working to build a healthy immune system. Unfortunately, many parents and caregivers are circumventing this process by seeking to sanitize the environment and discouraging this activity.
Remarkably, there is evidence that babies and children with pets in their homes who are exposed to dirt, dust, and dander have healthier immune systems. Roberto Wood, MD, Chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, stated, “Our study shows that the timing of initial exposure may be critical. What this tells us is that not only are many of our immune responses shaped in the first year of life but also that certain bacteria and allergens play an important role in stimulating and training the immune system to behave a certain way.” (3)
Beneficial Effects of Bacteria on the Immune System
Alternatively, “An early clue that bacteria might help form the immune system came from ‘germ-free’ mice — mice that live their entire lives in carefully controlled environments devoid of microorganisms. These mice consistently display T-cell imbalances and ’don’t even develop Th17 cells,’ says Sloan Devlin, a CMIT Research Faculty Member and assistant professor of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at Harvard Medical School. (4) Th17 cells belong to the category of cells called “helper T cells”. They activate other immune cells, defend against microbial infections, target extracellular bacteria and fungi, and help prevent autoimmunity. In an effort to avoid bacteria and germs, you may be inadvertently thwarting your immune system.
The Gut-Immune System Connection
Your gut and immune system work together as a force against foreign invaders. When functioning in its optimal state, your gut can identify different types of bacteria, keeping the good while warding off the bad.
Most people have heard about good bacteria in the gut but tend to think they merely help with digestion. However, there is much more to the story. The microbiome and your immune system are in constant communication. The health of your gut is directly proportional to the health of your immune system. Maintaining the delicate balance needed in your gut is difficult in our current environment.
Unfortunately, most Americans have lifestyle habits that cause significant damage to the delicate microbiome. Continually eating a poor diet, constantly being exposed to toxins, and frequently taking medications like antibiotics wreaks havoc on the gut. Dysbiosis occurs when the good and bad bacteria are out of balance, leaving you highly susceptible to various disorders. A leaky gut occurs when the tight junctions in your intestinal lining deteriorate, allowing food particles and other substances to make their way into your bloodstream.
When this happens, your immune system is alerted and kicks into high gear. Thinking your body is under attack, your immune system starts destroying both healthy and unhealthy cells. This process, especially when sustained over time, leads to autoimmune conditions, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, where your body attacks itself. In addition, poor lifestyle habits lead to chronic bowel inflammation, which is directly related to decreased immune tolerance.
Warning Signs You Have an Unhealthy Gut
How do you know if you have gut issues? If you experience any of the following symptoms, you likely have GI issues that could negatively affect your immune response.
- Stomach Aches
- Frequent colds or flu
- Skin rashes
These warning signs indicate that the root cause needs to be identified and addressed. Treating with medications or surgeries only mitigates symptoms and doesn’t correct the problems. Therefore, it is important to follow the 5 Essentials of MaxLiving to ensure your immune system is working at its highest level.
About the Author
Kimberly Roberto is a wife, mother of three, author, and business owner. She and her husband Fred have owned and operated a chiropractic and wellness clinic for the last 25 years. Kimberly and Fred have been a part of MaxLiving for since it’s onset. She co-authored the Maximized Living Nutrition Plans book in 2009 which sold over 10,000 copies and recently authored the MaxLiving’s Maximizing Your Pregnancy, Birth and Newbornbook. She’s a holistic nutritionist and maintains a healthy cooking/recipe blog. She is passionate about natural health and helping people reach their potential for health and wellness. She resides in Marietta, GA and their three children are now grown and attending college.