Did you know that about 70% of the immune system is located in the gut (1)!? Our guts are tasked with making sure everything in our bodies is working properly. By absorbing nutrients during digestion that help our bodies function properly, the gut aids in the health of our skin, hormone balance, energy production, elimination of toxins, and even our mental health. Given this fact, it’s of the utmost importance to make sure our guts are functioning well to help curb health issues. Here are some guidelines to help you boost your immune system by making sure your gut is happy (1, 2).
Eat a Balanced Diet
What you eat and drink greatly affects how your digestive system works and can disrupt the gut microbiome, or balance of bacteria, in your gut:
- Avoid too many processed foods -- they can cause an inflammatory response as our bodies try to fight them off like infection. Instead, focus on whole foods, fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed meats.
- It’s also been noted that a more plant-based approach can be beneficial: vegetarians have more diversity in gut flora and less inflammation.
- Get enough dietary fiber -- it helps with regular bowel movements and supports healthy bacteria.
- Reduce sugar and sweeteners that can contribute to bad bacterial strains, and may even contribute to gut dysbiosis, or a bacterial imbalance.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine which can disrupt the balance of gut flora. Alcohol is also very acidic, often causing heartburn or acid reflux (1, 2, 3).
Set yourself up for digestive success! Chewing and eating slowly actually helps digestion, as saliva production and chewing teeth both work to dissolve food before it hits the digestive system, as well as letting the rest of your body know that it’s time to start digesting (1).
Drink Plenty of Fluids
Fluid intake is essential for warding off constipation. Herbal teas and sparkling water are good alternatives if you have a difficult time getting enough water in (3).
Some people choose to take probiotics to boost beneficial bacteria and help break down fiber. Although it’s not been conclusively proven, some research suggests that probiotics may help support gut microbiota and help with digestive issues. There are also fermented foods, although it should be noted that many of these are high FODMAP if you are following a low FODMAP diet. A few low FODMAP options would be goats yogurt, sourdough spelt bread, or some types of cabbage (red cabbage or common cabbage). Always speak with your healthcare provider about your particular health needs before including probiotics into your diet plan to ensure you choose the right ones for you, if at all (1, 3).
Get Enough Sleep
Catching up on sleep is not something to feel guilty about! It helps lower your cortisol levels and gives your gut time to heal. Although there seems to be a definite connection between poor sleep and the gut microbiota, researchers are still studying precisely how sleep affects gut health and vice versa (1).
Keep Tabs on Your Poop
Most people pass a bowel movement on a schedule, from 3 times a week to 3 times a day. If things are off, you could be constipated. Make sure you’re getting enough fluid and fiber. If your body is not passing food for many days your stool will decay in your body -- which can cause gas and other issues (1).
Staying active is key! In addition to movement helping food move through your intestines, it can also reduce inflammation in your body. Just 30 minutes of exercise a few times a week can greatly improve gut motility. Not only that, but it may increase the strains of healthy bacteria in your gut (2,3)!
Stress can impact your whole body, especially your gut. Stress can cause blood and energy to be redirected from your digestive system to other areas, which can cause a host of issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome, bowel habit changes, or ulcers. The more relaxed you are, the better. Try meditation and yoga for a dose of mindfulness to bring you back to a calm center and manage stress (1,2,3).
Smoking can affect gut health, by increasing harmful bacteria strains and reducing healthy ones. Over time this can create a risk for digestive disorders like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), as well as increasing your risk for cancer (3).
Limit Frequent Exposure to Disinfectant Cleaning Products
Your gut microbiota can be set off balance by environmental factors as well as things you consume, for example, harsh disinfectant cleaning products. Much like antibiotics, they can be responsible for killing off healthy bacteria and upsetting the balance of the gut microbiome (3).
Use Antibiotics As Needed
Although they are necessary in many cases, the CDC recommends that people discuss options with their doctor and consider other possible options, as overuse can lead to antibiotic resistance. Not only that, they can damage the gut microbiota and immunity defense, killing off healthy bacteria in the process (3).
By making some incremental dietary and lifestyle changes, you can improve your microbiome and boost your immunity, which will improve your overall health! Always speak to your doctor before making any big changes to make sure that they are helpful for you as an individual.
- Kristin Ciccolini, “If Your Gut Could Talk: 10 Things You Should Know,” healthline.com, Healthline, updated on September 17, 2018, https://www.healthline.com/health/digestive-health/things-your-gut-wants-you-to-know.
- “5 Ways to Boost your Immune System Through Your Gut,” dupagemedicalgroup.com, Dupage Medical Group, accessed September 9, 2021, https://www.dupagemedicalgroup.com/health-topic/5-ways-to-boost-your-immune-system-through-your-gut.
- Jayne Leonard, “10 Ways to Improve Gut Health,” medicalnewstoday.com, Medical News Today, May 28, 2019, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/gut-bacteria-can-help-rebuild-the-immune-system.