Did you know that your biggest exposure to the outside world every day is through your mouth? That’s why 70% of your immune system lives in your gut, lying in wait to protect you from anything that seems foreign to the body (called antigens because they stimulate the immune system), which believe it or not includes food and the toxins and microbes that ride along with the food that you ingest while eating.
Your gut, which starts in your mouth, travels through your stomach, small intestine, colon or large intestine, and ends in your rectum, is supposed to be a closed tube – with the intestinal lining creating a barrier that separates the inside of your body and immune system from these outside exposures. When you digest your food, the intestinal lining can then selectively choose what can enter your body by opening and closing special gates called tight junctions.
In functional medicine, an intestinal barrier with damaged tight junctions that isn’t keeping antigens out of the body is known as a leaky gut. Studies have increasingly found that a leaky gut can damage the functioning of your immune system and is also associated with arthritis, autoimmune disease, allergies, and food sensitivities.
Causes of leaky gut vary, but the most important is dysbiosis, which is an imbalance in the bacteria in the gut, also called the gut microbiome. Dysbiosis can be an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, yeast or parasites, or not enough good bacteria, and is commonly caused by a poor diet, a course of antibiotics, frequent use of antacids, stress, and many other things like medication and toxins. These gut bacteria are important because they interact with your immune system to keep it healthy, and they turn the food we eat into healthy compounds called short chain fatty acids which heal the tight junctions between your cells and also support immune health.
The good news is that you can rebuild your microbiome and repair your gut, and this is the best thing you can do to maintain and improve the health of your immune system. Here is how to do this:
- CHANGE YOUR FOOD: has the most influence on the diversity of the microbiome, and that’s why you should always start with changing your diet by increasing fruits and veggies, especially those rich in polyphenols, bioflavonoids, and fiber because these tend to increase the good bacteria that make short-chain fatty acids and heal the gut. Also, you need to remove foods from your diet that feed the bad bacteria like sugar, processed flour products, alcohol, and too many animal products (more than 30% of your daily diet). You also need to test yourself for food sensitivities and remove sensitive foods such as gluten, dairy, soy, corn, eggs and the nightshade vegetables. Our elimination diet explainer shows how to do this.
- TREAT YOUR DYSBIOSIS: At Blum Center for Health we start with cleansing herbs like berberine, grape seed extract, black walnut, and oregano that can clear out bad bacteria and yeast from the gut ecosystem. In fact, we created our own custom herbal antibiotic mix called Gut Cleanse, and we use this in our do-it-yourself 10 or 30-Day Gut Cleanse Program. Once you have eliminated the bad bacteria and yeast, probiotics and the right food can help you rebuild the good stuff, repair the gut lining, reduce inflammation, and eliminate food sensitivities.
- TAKE A PROBIOTIC: These are supplements filled with different strains of beneficial bacteria that help positively influence your gut ecosystem and improve the functioning of your immune system. We recommend probiotics as a foundation for supporting immune health.
These simple steps will not only improve your gut function, but will also lay down a foundation for immune health that will continue to improve in the future.
Susan Blum, MD, MPH an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, has been treating, healing and preventing chronic diseases for nearly two decades. A Preventive Medicine and Chronic Disease Specialist, Dr. Blum is the Founder and Director of Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, New York, where she leads a multi-specialty team of physicians, nurse practitioners, nutritionists and health coaches, all providing cutting edge Functional and Integrative Medicine services.