When you think about how to support immune health, you probably don't consider your gut — but maybe you should. Gut health and the immune system go hand in hand. Over 80% of your immune system is located in your gut, and the gut and the immune system start "talking" to each other from the day you're born.
A healthy digestive system is essential to strong immunity, which in turn promotes overall wellness. Your gut is home to a collection of bacteria and other microorganisms, both beneficial and harmful, called the microbiome. When the microbiome is balanced it promotes optimal immune function. But, when the number of "bad" bacteria outweighs the good, the digestive system suffers. And so does your immunity.
Let's take a closer look at the connection between gut health and the immune system, and explore the importance of managing stress to maintain both.
Digestive issues put increased demand on the immune system, forcing it to work harder. They are also a form of stress, which takes a significant toll on immune health. Stress can lead to an impaired immune system, which can lead to an increased risk of illness. Many health problems have been linked to stress.
The relationship between your gut and the immune system is mutually beneficial. The bacteria in your gut send messages to the immune system that shape its development, stimulating the growth of immune cells.
Within the gut, beneficial species of bacteria play an important role in preventing harmful organisms from entering the bloodstream. These bacteria keep intestinal walls strong by forming a protective barrier that keeps unwanted organisms out.
As long as the gut is balanced, it can work with the immune system and protect your body from illness. But when this balance is thrown off, the body becomes vulnerable to digestive issues and many other health problems.
Unhealthy lifestyle choices, often motivated by stress, are at the root of many gut and immune issues. Pushing yourself too hard, eating a lot of processed foods, overindulging in alcohol, not getting enough sleep -- all of these can throw your gut off balance and weaken the immune system. Exposure to environmental toxins can also have a negative effect on gut and immune health.
When there is an imbalance between good and bad bacteria, the lining walls of the intestines can lose their protective barrier strength, allowing harmful pathogens to pass through the weakened intestinal walls, potentially causing illness.
Managing stress levels is one of the most important things you can do to support both your gut and your immune system. You may have noticed that during times of higher stress you tend to get sick more often. With persistent stress comes lowered immunity, meaning your defenses against illness are down.
You can eliminate any guesswork and find out exactly how stress is affecting your unique physiology through an at-home lab test. Once you have your results you can work alongside a certified Integrative Health Practitioner (IHP) Health Coach to understand them and find your individualized approach to rebalance your health. Nutrition, movement and exercise, supportive supplementation, meditation or relaxing with a good book are just some of the many ways to lower stress levels and in turn help support a healthy immune system.
Since digestive problems can be a source of stress on the body, addressing these issues is also key to good health. Could sensitivities to certain foods be affecting your digestion? Is an imbalance of gut bacteria giving rise to digestive distress and lowered immune function? Once you get to the root of your digestive issues, you can address the causes and bring your gut into balance and this is the benefit of at-home lab testing.
The connection between gut health and the immune system simply cannot be overlooked. When they're both functioning optimally, you will be too. If you're dealing with digestive upset and stress (along with further digestive issues caused by the added stress) - I'm sure you can see that your wellness will suffer. Balancing your gut and lowering your stress levels are crucial for supporting a strong immune system — and a healthy you.