Why Nutrition Is So Important
Nutrition plays an essential role in maintaining proper function of the immune system.
The majority of the immune cells within the human body are found within lymphatic tissue surrounding the intestines, called the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT).
The location of the immune system near the digestive tract plays an important role.
This allows us to use food to synthesize molecules that are needed for the immune system to function, and to help us quickly identify pathogens and invaders.
Eating a nutrient-rich and diverse diet helps ensure that we have the right inputs to form the immune system.
The close proximity of the immune system to the digestive tract also leaves it vulnerable to exposure to foods and invaders that may cause harm to the body.
Leaky Gut Syndrome
Modern diets, low in vegetables and fiber and high in sugar, processed foods, gluten and dairy, have been found to increase cross-reactions between the immune system and the digestive system, referred to as leaky gut.
Leaky gut occurs when the lining of the gastrointestinal tract becomes more porous and permeable, allowing food particles and external invaders that normally would flow through the gut to get into the blood stream.
As the immune system comes into contact with these particles, it tags them as invaders.
This on-going activation between the immune system has been found to induce chronic inflammation and contribute to chronic disease.
What to Eat to Improve Gut Health and Immune Function?
Improving the function of the gut and the immune system depends on adequate nutrition from a healthy diet.
The aim is to eat food that nourishes the gut, ensures the integrity of the gut lining, and promotes balance within the macrobiotic gut flora.
We can do this in one of two ways.
1. Limiting Foods Like:
Sugar and processed foods have been found to decrease the balance of beneficial bacteria in your gut. Consuming a diet high in levels of glucose, fructose, and sucrose have been found to create an imbalance of bad gut bacteria.
Limiting consumption of refined sugars as well as natural sugars can support the growth of beneficial bacteria over other species.
Gluten is a substance present in cereal grains that gives food shape and maintains a chewy texture.
Gluten also contains a protein in it called zonulin. Research has found that zonulin is the only human protein discovered to date that is known to reversibly regulate intestinal permeability by modifying intercellular tight-junctions in the gut lining.
By increasing the permeability of the gut lining, greater interaction between the immune system and GI system can occur, contributing to the pathogenesis of autoimmune diseases.
Limiting consumption of gluten-containing grains is a common approach to healing intestinal permeability and restoring immune function.
2. Fuel Up On
Fiber is a structural component found in many plant foods like broccoli, brussels sprouts, oats, and apples.
Fiber isn’t digested fully by the intestines but helps bulk our stools and promote digestion to eliminate wastes. Eating more fiber can also be a great way to help feed gut friendly bacteria, promoting beneficial gut flora.
Probiotics are microorganisms that provide benefit to the host.
Our bodies contain trillions of micro-organisms that facilitate enzymatic processes in the body.
Maintaining a proper balance of beneficial probiotic bacteria is found to have a wide range of health benefits, including weight loss, improved mood, and limiting overall inflammation.
Consuming foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, and kefir can provide beneficial probiotics to the gut. A probiotic supplement can also help naturally increase beneficial gut bacteria.
Diet Can Help Our Overall Immune Health
What we eat has many implications for the outcomes of many diseases as well as our susceptibility to infections and symptoms from viruses.
Modifying our diet and lifestyle to incorporate more foods that support the gut environment and limiting our intake of foods that can cause harm, is an important step in supporting our overall immune health.