Our gut health and immune system are tightly related. Somewhere between 70-80% of our immune cells reside just behind our gut lining. The cells of our digestive tract and our microbiome are in constant communication with our immune system; influencing how quickly it gets activated. For this reason, our gut health plays a huge role in the development of inflammation.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is a natural and necessary process. Your immune system creates inflammation to protect itself from infection or injury. This process is mediated through immune cells and immune proteins known as “cytokines”. Cytokines are chemical messengers that send a message throughout the whole body, informing your immune cells of a possible attack and triggering inflammation.
This can lead to the classic inflammation symptoms of pain, swelling, redness and/or heat.
In contrast, symptoms of chronic inflammation can be diverse and vague. This may include headaches, brain fog, low energy, autoimmune disease, bloating, hormonal imbalance, joint pain, and many other things. Chronic inflammation is becoming more and more common.
Identifying and treating the root cause is essential to reducing chronic inflammation. Our digestive system is a key starting place.
Gut cells and the immune system:
Our gut lining is a thin barrier of cells. These cells separate our digestive tract from our blood. This is where nutrients pass through to become absorbed. A large portion of our immune cells are waiting behind this barrier, ready to attack and get rid of anything foreign or harmful you may have ingested. Therefore, maintaining a strong, robust intestinal lining is essential to protecting you and reducing inflammation. The more “leaky” this barrier is, the more likely your immune system is going to be triggered.
Leaky gut syndrome.
Leaky gut syndrome, also known as increased intestinal permeability, refers to the tightness of the gaps or junctions between the cells of your gut lining. In other words, how easily things can pass through your digestive barrier. As the lining/barrier becomes loose, food particles, bacteria, toxins, etc. can more easily pass through, triggering your immune system and leading to inflammation.
3 major causes of leaky gut:
Gut infections are more common than once thought. Certain bacteria strains can secrete toxins that directly disrupt your gut barrier leading to an increase in its leakiness. Signs of possible gut infections may include history of traveler’s diarrhea/infection, food poisoning, chronic stomach aches and pain, bloating and/or irregular bowel movements.
Certain foods may trigger your immune system. This may lead to a release of inflammatory proteins, which can damage the gut lining. For example, gluten/gliadin (found in wheat products), can cause the release of a protein called zonulin in your gut. Studies shown that zonulin directly loosens the tight junctions of your intestinal cells, leading to leaky gut.
Food sensitivities are not a food allergy. A food allergy causes an immediate reaction, while food sensitivities typically cause a delayed reaction, anywhere from 24-72 hours after a meal. Common signs may include headaches, brain fog, congestion, fatigue, joint ache/pains and/or bloating.
Our microbiome is a massive ecosystem, and it plays an essential role in gut health. First of all, they help us produce Vitamin B12 and Vitamin K. They also feed on dietary fiber and produces small chain fatty acids, “SCFA”. SCFA interacts directly with our gut lining, influencing gene expression to regulate the health of the gut barrier. Finally, the microorganisms produce metabolites that interact with our immune cells, directly impacting the health of our immune system.
Want to learn more? Give us a call 604-678-8600 to book a free 15-minute consultation to see how Acubalance can support you.
Dr. Ashley Damm, ND
Naturopathic Doctor – Vancouver, BC