Is a Healthy Gut Microbiome the Key to a Stronger Immune System?
The gut microbiome is incredibly complex and is composed of trillions of microorganisms. Good gut bacteria and fungi are an essential part of this microflora, playing a key role in keeping the digestive and immune system healthy.
Each day, we learn more about how good gut bacteria and fungi improve our overall well-being. But how exactly do the interactions between the gut microbiome and immune system work together to fend off pathogens and illnesses?
Connections Between the Gut Microbiome and Immune System
Within the gut, trillions of microorganisms, including beneficial fungi and over 300 species of good bacteria, make up the microbiome.
These bacteria are known to provide a wide variety of health benefits – but none more important than their interaction with the immune system.
The gut microbiome is responsible for controlling key immune system functions, including responses to disease-causing pathogens and viruses. Good bacteria communicate with immune cells when in contact with invading microorganisms by releasing chemical signals, stimulating an adaptive immune response. A strong immune system and fortified microbiome increase the immune response rate and decrease the chances of becoming ill.
However, unhealthy changes in the gut – like the development of a leaky gut - limit the microbiome’s ability to control the immune system by decreasing the bacteria’s capacity to communicate with immune cells. This also increases the risk of contracting illnesses and infections.
Luckily, there are some easy ways to improve your gut health and keep your immune system strong.
6 Tips to Improve Your Gut Health and Immune System
The best way to fortify your microbiome is through diet and healthy lifestyle choices. Below are six tips you should keep in mind when attempting to improve your gut and immune system health.
1. Consume a Diverse Diet
Eating a wide range of foods can maintain the diversity of the microbiome, which is an essential factor in gut health. The gut microbiome is naturally diverse, containing a vast number of beneficial microbes, all of which are important for basic digestion and immune functions. Consuming an inclusive diet can help strengthen and grow your microflora to withstand unexpected changes and stress.
2. Prioritize Probiotic Foods
Probiotic foods contain live strains of beneficial bacteria. Consuming probiotics add to your gut microbiome by improving diversity and strength. Foods known to be highest in probiotics are fermented foods. Some probiotic foods you can consider adding to your diet are:
- Pickles and pickled vegetables
If your diet lacks probiotic foods, supplements are often recommended to improve gut and immune system health. Additionally, utilizing supplements to replenish the microbiota is especially encouraged after bacteria-depleting events, such as a taxing illness or after taking antibiotics.
3. And Prebiotic Foods!
Prebiotics are a type of fiber and primary food source of gut bacteria. Providing a variety of prebiotic foods encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria strains, as each strain prefers different types of fiber. Common ‘high-fiber’ prebiotic foods can include:
- Oats and whole wheat
- Prebiotic supplements
4. Look for Foods Rich in Polyphenols
Polyphenols are bioactive plant compounds known to stimulate the microbiome and promote bacterial growth. These phytonutrients are found in red wine, green tea, dark chocolate, and whole grains.
5. Adopt a Healthy Lifestyle
Alongside adopting a diet that promotes a robust gut microbiome and immune system, additional healthy lifestyle changes can also make a difference. Adopting new healthy habits like staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, exercising, and lowering stress levels have been connected to balancing the gut environment and diversifying composition of the microbiota. A healthy lifestyle can also boost efficiency of the gut microbiome, including faster immune system response rates to protect against infection.
6. Only Use Antibiotics When Necessary
Antibiotics, which are designed to kill illness-causing bacteria, also unintentionally kill good gut bacteria. To avoid depleting your microbiome, only take antibiotics when medically necessary. This will help to prevent against a weakened immune system.
Keep Your Gut Microbiome and Immune System Healthy
A healthy gut microbiome and immune system keeps the body healthy and protected from pathogens and viruses.
Poor gut health can affect the microbiome and its ability to stimulate the immune system, making you more susceptible to potential dangers and increasing the risk of contracting an illness. Adopt lifestyle practices that support your digestive system and prevent stressful changes in the gut and microbiota.
You can also support your gut microbiome and immune system with supplements. Look for a reputable company that sells only the highest quality ingredients in their prebiotic and probiotic supplements.
About the Author:
Allison Lansman, RDN, LD is a freelance writer and owner of The Freelance RD Nutrition Writing Services. She is passionate about creating exciting, research-based nutrition blog posts with her professional background as a dietitian. Allie prioritizes creating articles all readers can understand and incorporate into their daily lives.