“Our gut microbiome really massively affects our immune system and its ability to defend itself against disease”Dr. Paul Wischmeyer, on Quacks and Hypochondriac’s podcast.
Even though it’s winding down, the COVID-19 pandemic has us thinking about our immune system more than ever. Every sniffle, every headache, every day we’re feeling “off,” we are crossing our fingers that our immune system is fighting off germs that may get us sick.
Our immune system is like our bodyguard. It keeps the troublemakers away and takes care of them if they get through the door. There are many “soldiers” that make up our immune system. Today we’re going to focus on the beneficial bacterial bodyguards in our gut microbiome that protects us from disease.
Keep reading to find out:
- The major areas of our body where gut bacteria protect us from disease
- How changes in the gut bacteria might be related to specific illnesses
- Gut microbiota’s potential role in protecting us from COVID-19
- How to keep your bacterial bodyguards in “fighting” condition
Gut Bacteria: Your Immune System Coach
Your immune system is looking for a “coach” from the day you are born. Just like Rocky, it needs someone to show it the ropes of fighting off disease-causing germs and bacteria. Your gut bacteria are just like that old guy in Rocky.
As soon as we’re born, healthy bacteria (mostly from our Mom) start to colonize the gut. Through this colonization, our immune system learns the difference between good and bad bacteria. It develops immune-fighting cells (or antibodies) and knows how to use these cells when it needs them.
This process is called “Immune Training.” It’s why little kids are likely to catch every cough and cold germ that comes along; their immune system is still learning how to handle them.
The role of your gut microbiota is essential to training your immune system. Studies of “germ-free” mice, bred without any gut bacteria, have shown that they have a poorer immune response and are less capable of fighting off disease.
Healthy bacteria begin to colonize your gut from birth. These beneficial bacteria “train” your immune system to fight disease-causing germs.
The Axes of Immunity
“The anti-inflammatory effects are impressive. Yeah, I lost weight, but freedom from chronic joint pain (due to Lyme and coinfections) and crushing fatigue is fantastic!”Jean L, Betr Success Story.
We’re not talking about “axes” as in “chop-chop,” I mean Axes as in the plural of “axis.” That’s because researchers have recognized the numerous relationships between a healthy gut and other parts of the body and given those relationships names.
The “Gut-Brain Axis” describes how a healthy gut affects a healthy brain. Then, of course, the “Gut-Skin Axis” outlines the relationship between gut and skin health. Finally, there’s the “Gut-Lung Axis.”
The “Gut-Lung Axis” (GLA) is an excellent example of how the bacteria in our gut support immunity in other parts of our body.
Our gut and lungs share a front door. Most air and food enter our bodies through our noses and mouth. It blends in the nose/throat area then the pipes split, one to the stomach, the other to the lungs.
Because of this common entryway, our gut and lungs share a fair amount of beneficial bacteria. The health of our gut bacterial plays a significant role in our lung’s ability to fight off disease through 3 primary mechanisms:
- Healthy gut bacteria have natural antiviral and antimicrobial properties. It fights germs.
- Unhealthy bacterial species in the gut produce substances that cause inflammation, resulting in inflammation and impaired immunity in the lungs (and elsewhere).
- Healthy gut bacteria keep our immune system on its toes, translating to improved immune system function in the lungs.
Knowing all this, consider how a healthy gut may protect against COVID-19 infection. Because it’s a new virus, researchers are still finding out how our gut health may impact our susceptibility to and the severity of COVID-19.
The relationship between our gut and lung microbiome is called the Gut-Lung Axis, and it’s an essential part of our immune system.
Chronic Inflammation: The Hidden Fire.
Inflammation is one of the major ways our gut health can impact our overall health. The bacteria in your gut and what you feed them can significantly impact inflammation throughout your entire body.
That’s because inflammation is integral to our body’s ability to repair itself and fight disease. Healthy gut microbiota produces short-chain fatty acids, which are metabolites that do many beneficial things, just one of which is reducing inflammation.
When the microbiome balance shifts toward less beneficial bacterial species, there is an increase in metabolites that cause inflammation. It’s important to remember that inflammation is part of the healing process when there’s an injury or disease in our body. But, when there isn’t anything wrong, inflammation does more harm than good.
This low-grade, chronic inflammation causes stress to our body, which causes more inflammation. Inflammation also causes increased cell wall permeability, which means the walls of our cells “leak.” When this happens, substances in our gut travel to places they shouldn’t, which causes more inflammation.
This causes an out-of-control “hidden fire” of inflammation that builds up to the point where it “burns out” our body by causing symptoms like fatigue, pain, and severe disease. Chronic inflammation is like the boy crying wolf. When the real problem arises, the body is burnt out by dealing with chronic inflammation.
Changes in your gut microbiota can increase low-grade, chronic inflammation, which leads to a decrease in your immune response.
Autoimmunity and Opportunistic Infections
Autoimmune diseases occur when our immune system turns against healthy cells. These diseases are some of the most complex and challenging to treat, and researchers are trying to figure out if gut health could be part of the solution.
Three well-known autoimmune diseases, Inflammatory Bowel Disorder (IBD), Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), and Type 1 Diabetes (DM1), have been associated with changes in the gut microbiota of affected patients. More research is needed to determine if these changes are because of the disease, if unhealthy gut bacteria are doing a poor job of training the patient’s immune system, or if they’re related to chronic inflammation caused by an imbalance of gut microbiota.
If you work in healthcare or know someone hospitalized for any length of time, you’ve probably heard of C. diff. This is one disease known to be caused by unhealthy gut microbiota. It’s kind of the boogeyman of the healthcare world.
C. diff, the common nickname for the bacteria Clostridium difficile, is an “opportunistic” healthcare-related infection that results in severe diarrhea. It’s caused by disrupting your gut microbiota by treatment with strong antibiotics.
Here’s what happens: the antibiotic doesn’t just kill the infection but can also kill the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Once your gut bacteria are gone, there’s nothing to keep C. diff out, and it takes over.
A healthy gut microbiome is essential to keeping our immune system functioning appropriately. Harmful microbiome changes have been associated with autoimmune disease and opportunistic infections.
The Final Word on Immunity and Gut Health
We’ve covered just a few ways your gut microbiota affects your immune system and disease development. The important things to remember from this discussion are that:
- Healthy bacteria begin to colonize your gut from birth. These beneficial bacteria “train” your immune system to fight disease-causing germs.
- The relationship between our gut and lung microbiome is called the Gut-Lung Axis, and it’s an essential part of our immune system.
- Changes in your gut microbiota can increase low-grade, chronic inflammation, which decreases your immune response.
- A healthy gut microbiome is essential to keeping our immune system functioning appropriately. Harmful microbiome changes have been associated with autoimmune disease and opportunistic infections.
One of the fantastic benefits of Betr is that it keeps your bacterial bodyguard in fighting shape!
Many of our members have experienced reduced signs and symptoms of chronic inflammation by using food as medicine to heal the gut. These results include reduced pain, improved energy, lowered medication use, and fewer symptoms of autoimmune disorders!
Explore Betr's risk-free trial to see if you could benefit from using food as medicine to rebuild your microbiome and realize the healthy potential you never knew you were missing!