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The little organisms in your gut influence how well you respond to infection
Your gut health influences your immune system responses. It is in your gut, where your immune system gets into contact with millions of small organisms, like bacteria and toxins. Although the interactions between the organisms in your gut and your immune system are complex, you can help keep inflammation at bay by nourishing the good organisms in your gut. In doing so, you can prevent diseases like obesity, type-2 diabetes and heart disease.
What lives in your gut?
Your gut is home to thousands of tiny organisms. This community of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other microbes is collectively called your gut microbiome.
Your gut community is like a big, multiracial, multicultural city. There are, for example, more than 1000 species of bacteria living in your gut. Some gut bacteria can digest food that the human body can’t break down. In the process, these gut bacteria can release chemicals that can be beneficial to your health or harm you. There are helpful bacteria and harmful bacteria.
Scientists are fascinated by how your microbiome influences your health. Scientists think that gut bacteria play a role in the development of IBS and IBD. They can also affect your liver and impact inflammation in your body. What’s more fascinating, is that they seem to play a role in mental health (depression and anxiety) and they might contribute to the development of obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Scientists are only now beginning to link the activities of gut bacteria to inflammation. A healthy gut microbiome tends to include a wide range of different beneficial bacteria which in turn keeps your immune system healthy – preventing chronic inflammation.
What is inflammation?
When your body activates your immune system to fight infection, inflammation happens. Doctors can detect inflammation by measuring high-sensitivity C-reactive protein and white blood cell count with a blood test.
There are two types of inflammation.
Happens when you suddenly get injured. You might cut or bruise yourself and the warmth, swelling and redness around the area are messages directed at the immune sells to come to the rescue and repair the damage.
Happens when your immune system responds to infection over a long period of time. Chronic inflammation can be very bad for your health as it can lead to conditions like diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
It seems like certain gut bacteria can play a role in causing chronic inflammation and the development of these diseases. Yet, interactions between your gut microbiome and your immune system are complex and work in both directions.
Inflammation and microbes
Your gut health, immune system response and diets seem to be linked. Certain inflammatory bacteria, like Collinsella, seem to thrive in your gut when you eat lots of refined carbohydrates.
If you follow a western diet, you probably eat a lot of refined foods. Refined and processed sugars like sucrose (table sugar), high fructose corn syrup and agave syrup are found in many foods. Refined grains have no fibrous and nutritious parts, as they have been removed. Refined grains include white flour, white rice and white bread.
When eating a lot of refined carbohydrates, some gut bacteria produce a chemical called lipopolysaccharide (LPS), which causes inflammation when they pass into the blood. This inflammation can become chronic and lead to obesity and type-2 diabetes.
In order to ensure that the population of certain bacteria does not grow exponentially, while other bacteria populations grow too slowly, you have to eat a variety of foods. Today’s western diet has a severely limited variety of foods to choose from. Only 12 plants and five animal species are used for 75% of the world’s food supply. If you diversify your diet by including more fibre-rich foods and foods with probiotics, you can diversify your gut bacteria.
One study has found that people who ate lots of fibre had a balanced gut diversity. The study also found that participants who ate more fermented foods had a diverse microbiome and the markers of inflammation in their bodies were reduced.
What to eat
1. Eat prebiotics
Eating foods high in fibre will spur the growth of beneficial bacteria. Eat whole foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains as well as nuts. You can change your gut flora profile in a few days just by eating lots of fibre. Lots of foods high in fibre contain prebiotics. Prebiotics are like fertilizers that help beneficial bacteria grow.
Some examples of food that contain prebiotics are:
- Green vegetables
- Legumes (peas and beans)
Some products have added prebiotics but you won’t necessarily see the word “prebiotics” on the label. Instead, look for terms like:
- Chicory fiber
2. Eat probiotics
Fermented foods like yogurt, kombucha, kefir and sauerkraut already contain helpful bacteria which can help regulate immune system responses.
Your immune system, gut health and diet are linked. If you have a healthy immune system and a diverse microbiome you can avoid the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Diet plays an important part in diversifying your microbiome. Eating foods with lots of prebiotics will spur the growth of beneficial bacteria. Foods with probiotics already contain beneficial bacteria that can help regulate immune system responses.
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