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As winter approaches with the coming of flu season plus covid in the mix, many of us are considering ways to protect and strengthen our immune system. Wearing masks, washing our hands, and increasing our intake of Vitamin C comes to mind. Research certainly suggests that these are effective and fabulous ways to ward off illness. 

And yet, what many people do not know is that the health of our guts (the digestive tract and the microbes house within it) play an integral role in strengthening our immunity. What we eat, and how well we digest, process, and absorb our nutrients can have profound effects on our ability to prevent disease and optimize wellness. In essence, to restore gut health means to restore overall immunity. 

No doubt, the immune system is complex. It is generally defined as a network of cells, tissues, organs, and signaling molecules that help the body fight infection. Many of us might recall from biology class that the immune system is made of white blood cells along with the thymus gland, spleen, tonsils, lymph nodes, and bone marrow. We also may recall that when learning about the immune system, the gut was never really mentioned.   

But emerging research tells us that our gut and our immune system are intricately linked and here are the specific ways in which this transpires: 

1.  GALT: 70-80% of your immune system lives within special tissue in our digestive tract called GALT or gut-associated lymphoid tissue. While we typically think of the GI tract as a place where food is digested and then discarded, the GI tract is also an immunological powerhouse containing more than 80% of our antibody-producing cells. The primary purpose of the GALT is to provide the first line of defense against foreign invaders such as food antigens and pathogenic bacteria.  

2.  The small intestine barrier: The cells that line your small intestine are linked together in a form called tight junctions. These tight junctions make sure that harmful pathogens and proteins are sent to the large intestine for excretion rather than absorbed into the bloodstream and entering the rest of your body which can cause an unwanted immune response. 

3.  Secretory IgA: Humans produce more immunoglobulin A (IgA) than all other antibodies combined. IgA lives in the mucosal tissue of the respiratory, genitourinary and digestive tracts and has even been described as an “antiseptic paint” covering the intestines. As the main immunoglobulin on the surface of the GI mucosa, Secretory IgA prevents infection, neutralize viruses, and remove antigens. 

4.  Your Gut Microbiome: Did you know that your gut contains close to 3 trillion microbes of bacteria? Not only that but these bacteria, many of them beneficial, are having conversations with our immune system daily and sharing information that keeps us healthy. The beneficial bacteria in the gut produce something called short-chain fatty acids along with other substances that boost immunity, reduce inflammation, and even promote a healthy metabolism. 

What Next?

So now that we know all of this, how can we apply our knowledge to help us gain stronger vitality and a more robust immune system?  

Most of us now agree that our overall health is intricately linked to our daily nutrition. Yes, there is truth to the phrase, “Food is Medicine”! Keep in mind that the average American adult consumes about 2000 pounds of food per year! That’s a lot of processing going on by our guts and so a healthy gut diet is of utmost importance. Too, it is not always what we eat but also what our body and digestive system do with what we eat that can make a difference with our overall health and immunity.  

That said, here are some steps you can take and food for thought on how to improve your overall gut immunity. By working with a highly trained Functional Medicine Practitioner with PrivaMD Center for Functional Medicine, we will guide you towards the most optimal plan that suits your personalized health care needs. 

Remove: Maintain a diet free from inflammatory foods, sugar, and highly processed products. Too, know that sometimes bacteria and yeast living in the gut become problematic and require removal. By working with an experienced Functional Medicine Practitioner, we offer appropriate testing to help you determine what your gut needs.  

Replace: A healthy gut diet is essential for improving gut health. Consume a diet of lean, grass-fed, organic, and/or wild game meats and fish along with healthy nuts, seeds, grains, fruits, and vegetables. Further support might include digestive enzymes, betaine hydrochloride, apple cider vinegar, or herbal bitters determined by your Functional Medicine practitioner and tailored to your specific needs.  

Reinoculate with a Microbiome Diet: The gut loves healthy beneficial bacteria derived from eating fermented foods. Research suggests fermented foods prevent chronic and degenerative diseases, improve digestion, boost the immune system, and control inflammation. And remember, when it comes to feeding your microbiome with ferments, a little goes a long way. Think of sauerkraut or kimchi more as a condiment than a side dish. Just 1-2 forkfuls with a meal or two days can make a world of a difference for your gut immunity.  

Repair: Consider taking gut-healing supplements like L-Glutamine, aloe vera extract, deglycyrrhizinated licorice, marshmallow root and zinc carnosine. These are just some

of the products, your Functional Medicine practitioner might suggest healing your digestive tissue.  

Diving Deeper 

Functional Medicine offers unique testing you may not find within a traditional doctor’s office. Your practitioner at PrivaMD Center for Functional Medicine can initiate an in-depth analysis of your microbiome profile which is as unique as your fingerprint. We examine things like how well you are digesting and absorbing your nutrients; the balance of healthy microbes; your levels of Secretory IgA and whether or not your intestinal lining is optimal for healthy gut immunity. 

HEAL YOUR GUT: A healthy gut ensures a healthy immune system.

Here at PrivaMD Center for Functional Medicine, we want you to experience ultimate strength and vitality. And we are equipped to look carefully at what your gut and immune system need.  

Suzanne Tither is a family nurse practitioner and functional medicine provider that works with clients throughout the United States on getting to the root cause of their health concerns. Contact The PrivaMD | Center For Functional Medicine at 616.213.0253 if you are interested in learning how Suzanne may be able to assist you on your journey to optimal health.

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