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how gut health affects immune function

How Gut Health Affects Immune Function

Posted Oct 14, 2019

The body’s immune system is the primary link between gut bacteria and their influence on overall health.3 Since the gut contains between 60 to 70% of the body’s immune system, it actually acts as the immune system’s “control tower,” in addition to serving as a digestive organ.4

Each person’s gastrointestinal tract has a large population of microbiota, consisting of trillions of  organisms.1 As these microbes have co-evolved, the body has formed a relationship which promotes a balanced immune system.2

Due to its connection to the immune system and acting as a defense to the rest of the body, the gut is arguably the center of health. For those suffering from arthritis and other autoimmune conditions whose symptoms are exacerbated or created by compromised gut health, it’s possible that healing the gut can help these conditions.7 For everyone else, a healthy gut makes developing autoimmune conditions, food sensitivities, and inflammation less likely.7

It is crucial for the body to establish a diverse gut flora in order to teach the immune cells that not everything that enters the nose, lungs, and gut are harmful.3 When gut bacteria balance is shifted, it’s possible for the digestive system to go into an increased inflammatory state called leaky gut, which can increase the risk of type 1 and 2 diabetes, obesity, and even depression.3

What is Leaky Gut?

There is an extensive intestinal lining inside the gut that encompasses more than 4,000 square feet of surface area. This intestinal lining is responsible for controlling what gets absorbed into the bloodstream. When this gut lining is damaged or unhealthy, it’s possible for it to contain large cracks or holes, which allow partially digested food, toxins and even viruses to penetrate the tissue beneath it.5

While some may have a genetic predisposition to leaky gut syndrome, a more common reason may just be modern life itself. A low-fiber, high-sugar diet commonly found in the Western world may initiate the process. Add in the high stress lifestyle many lead every day and it’s even more possible to experience leaky gut, which can be a source of bloating, gas, cramping, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal heaviness or fullness, headaches, food cravings and even nightmares.6

Tips to Support Your Digestive System

Diet tips to help:

  • Focus on nutrient-dense, natural whole foods (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, meats and nuts).
  • Increase your intake of saturated fats and omega fatty acids from good sources like fish, nuts, seeds and healthier oils.
  • Include high-fiber foods like flax seed, raspberries, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
  • Avoid nutritional deficiencies by complementing nutrient-dense foods with quality supplementation.
  • Avoid eating before bedtime. Going to bed with food in your stomach can tax your digestive system; it needs rest too!
  • Chew your food well and take your time when eating. Avoid rushed meals.
  • Aim for smaller meals and snacks spread throughout the day.
  • Drink plenty of water during and in-between meals.

Foods to avoid:

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea, and soft drinks
  • Dairy products
  • Foods that contain gluten
  • Refined sugars and artificial sweeteners
  • Nitrites and nitrates found in processed foods such as hot dogs, lunch meats, and bacon
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG), the flavor additive
  • Hydrogenated oils found in many processed and deep-fried foods
  • Junk and fast foods


  • Probiotics to help balance gut bacteria and promote regularity
  • Digestive enzymes to improve digestion and breakdown of food
  • Vitamins and minerals, especially magnesium, calcium, vitamin C and other antioxidants, and a B complex
  • Omega-3 fish oil
  • Activated charcoal to help eliminate gut toxins
  • Betaine HCL with pepsin to promote healthy levels of stomach acid
  • Natural fibers such as psyllium, oat bran, rice bran, prunes, ginger, fenugreek seed and vegetable cellulose help restore normal intestinal mobility
  • Mastic gum, MSM, licorice and glycine are anti-inflammatory and may help to soothe and protect irritated digestive tracts


  1. Biochem, J Introduction to the human gut microbiota. NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5433529/
  2. A Healthy Immune System Could Have Roots in Your Gut. uBiome. https://ubiome.com/blog/post/healthy-immune-system-roots-gut/
  3. Why Gut Bacteria are Essential for a Healthy Immune System. Medical Xpress. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2018-03-gut-bacteria-essential-healthy-immune.html
  4. Iguchi, K Boosting Immunity through Gut Bacteria. Newsweek. https://www.newsweek.com/gut-bacteria-immune-system-probiotics-1333541
  5. Campos, M Leaky gut: What is it, and what does it mean for you? Harvard University. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/leaky-gut-what-is-it-and-what-does-it-mean-for-you-2017092212451
  6. Solan, M Putting a stop to leaky gut. Harvard University. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/putting-a-stop-to-leaky-gut-2018111815289
  7. Blum, S What Healing Your Gut Can Do For Your Immune System. MindBodyGreen. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/arthritis-and-your-immune-system