Welcome back to immune prep central! Part 2 of our series is about the relationship between your immune system and your digestive system.
The phrase “immune system” might conjure up an assortment of connotations from your high school biology days: bacteria and viruses, innate and acquired, antibody and antigen, and so on. The science-y talk ends here, but the point is there is an even more salient fact about your immune system that most of us haven’t been taught. One of the most important predictors of your immune function is already within you and can have either a hugely beneficial or a dramatically negative influence on your ability to fight off illness.
Okay people, drumroll please: 70-90% of your immune system actually resides in your GUT. Your gut is host to your body’s largest population of immune cells, and the proper functioning of those cells relies on a remarkable, and largely uncharted, community of trillions of bacterial cells, known collectively as the microbiome. Those coils upon coils of small intestine house all of the intestinal bacteria that play an essential role in doing the digesting that we are oh so familiar with, but it turns out that the small intestine is the site of the majority of your immune response as well.
Your microbiome is a vast, diverse, and unique assortment of a multitude of strains of bacteria and other organisms, that essentially make you, you! Turns out, you are so much more than just what you eat. The microbiome consists of a mix of both helpful and opportunistic bacteria. The microbiome is truly a new frontier within us that is only beginning to be explored, categorized, and understood, with incredible and exciting ramifications for health conditions in a wide range of categories, from auto-immune conditions to ADHD to depression.
Probiotics are all the rage in the health-o-sphere these days, and for good reason. Probiotics comprise the good guys in your microbiome. Although the majority of them live in your digestive tract, probiotics exert a significant influence well beyond your belly. Probiotics are the key players in overall wellness and maintaining a balanced, healthy system. They rule the roost in three essential realms of your wellbeing: digestion, immunity, and brain function.
To go a little more in depth, here are just a few reasons why probiotics are such an integral part of your immune system:
- If you think of your gut microbiome as a garden, then the probiotics are the flowers and the opportunistic bacteria are the weeds. The more flowers there are, the less room there is for weeds to grow. The flowers protect your gut by crowding out the weeds and preventing them from sticking to the gut lining.
- As explained earlier in the post, your gut is host to your body’s largest population of immune cells. Probiotics serve to amplify and enhance the immune activity at these sites.
- Probiotics act as an immune barrier in the gut, only allowing certain things to pass into the bloodstream, and blocking illness-causing pathogens.
How do you know if you need to take probiotics? Well, most of us do. What type and for how long will vary widely, but if you have ever taken an antibiotic (and I mean ever in your life), then you probably want to explore getting on a probiotic.
My recommended brands for general immune and digestive health, and the ones I carry in my office are:
- For infants – Klaire Labs Infant Probiotic (powder) or Metagenics Ultraflora Baby (drops)
- For toddlers and older children – Metagenics UltraFlora Children's (chewable) (or one of the above infant products if your toddler isn't into chewables)
- For teens and adults – Klaire Labs Therbiotic Complete or Metagenics UltraFlora Spectrum (capsules)
If you are interested in learning more about your microbiome, here are two very worthwhile links to check out:
1) Super informative article by Michael Pollan about the microbiome:
2) Great slideshow about the microbiome:
(Featured image courtesy of probiotics.org)
Thanks for reading and please be sure to check out Part 1 of the series here: http://elementalfamily.com/fall-focus-on-immunity-preparatory-medicine/. We'd love to have you join our virtual Elemental Family to stay in the loop with these types of posts in the future! You can opt-in on the home page here: http://elementalfamily.com.