Did you know that over 70 percent of your immune system is in your gut? The gut and the immune system are more connected than most people realize. They even “talk” to each other! Communication between the gut and the immune system starts at birth and continues throughout your life.1 They work together to keep each other — and you — healthy.
With such a strong connection between the gut and the immune system, it’s no surprise that gut health plays a role in autoimmune disease. Let’s take a closer look at the role the gut plays in immune health, and consider some ways you can strengthen your gut to help prevent or treat autoimmune issues.
Your gut is home to a community of bacteria and other microorganisms called the microbiome. The microbiome contains “good” bacteria that helps to keep you healthy, as well as pathogenic “bad” bacteria that can make you sick. Ideally, there is a balance between the good and bad bacteria in your gut. But sometimes this balance is thrown off, and immune regulation in the gut is affected. This means your body has a harder time fighting off infections.
Gut bacteria also affect immune health by keeping the intestinal walls strong. They help form a barrier that prevents illness-causing microorganisms from entering the bloodstream. If something happens to weaken the intestinal lining, it can become porous. This leads to a condition known as leaky gut, where pathogens and other invaders are able to breach the protective barrier and get into the bloodstream.
Once harmful microorganisms like bacteria breach the gut barrier, they can move into tissue and organs throughout the body.2 This may trigger an immune response, where the body mistakenly attacks itself in an effort to fight these invaders. This is known as autoimmunity.
Now that you understand a bit more about the link between gut health and autoimmune disease, you’ll be glad to know there are many things you can do to support your gut and prevent (or treat) autoimmunity. Here are some of them.
Probiotics are good bacteria that help balance the gut by preventing bad bacteria from taking over. Prebiotics are fuel for good gut bacteria, giving them the energy they need to grow and flourish. Fermented foods like kimchi and yogurt are rich in probiotics. Leeks and garlic are good sources of prebiotics. You can also take supplements that contain both.
Many people who struggle with gas, bloating, and other digestive issues may have a condition called small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). This condition is often undiagnosed, so you might have it and not know it. But SIBO can be serious, and may contribute to autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s disease. We offer comprehensive SIBO testing at My Pure MD, and can help you treat it.
Collagen-rich foods like bone broth can help strengthen the lining of your digestive tract, keeping the intestinal barrier strong. Collagen supplements are also an option for preventing leaky gut, as is the amino acid L-glutamine.
Food allergies/sensitivities can affect the balance of bacteria in your gut, which is why you may feel nauseous or bloated after eating certain foods. And certain foods (like gluten) can damage cells in the intestinal lining that help protect against pathogens.3 Since food intolerance contributes to leaky gut (and autoimmunity), I suggest keeping a food diary to identify potential issues. My Pure MD also offers lab testing for food allergies and Celiac disease.
Excessive sugar consumption can negatively affect the microbiome, reducing the amount of good gut bacteria and allowing bad bacteria to take over. Too much sugar can also contribute to leaky gut, which in turn may lead to autoimmune disease. 4
Both stress and sleep deprivation can affect intestinal permeability and cause leaky gut. They can also disrupt the gut’s immune response, making you more vulnerable to illness.5 In these stressful times, it’s important to find ways to release stress, and to prioritize rest.
The relationship between the gut and the immune system is complex, and these are just some of the ways you can support your gut and prevent autoimmunity. At My Pure MD, we understand that all systems of the body are connected. With our holistic approach to health, we can help you uncover the underlying gut issues that may be affecting your immune system. Please reach out with any questions!
1. Nicholson JK, et al. Host-gut microbiota metabolic interactions. Science. 2012 Jun 8;336(6086):1262-1267.
2. Manfredo VS, et al. Translocation of a gut pathobiont drives autoimmunity in mice and humans. Science. 2018 Mar 9;359(6380):1156-1161.
3. Tuck CJ, et al. Food intolerances. Nutrients. 2019;11(7):1684.
4. Do MH, et al. High-glucose or -fructose diet cause changes of the gut microbiota and metabolic disorders in mice without body weight change. Nutrients. 2018;10(6):761.
5. Karl JP, et al. Effects of psychological, environmental and physical stressors on the gut microbiota. Front Microbiol. 2018;9:2013.