How the gut influences your immune system

Healthy gut and immune system

Did you know the majority of your immune cells live in your gut? That is why taking care of your gut health is crucial for looking after your immune system.

Your gut hosts a multitude of bacteria, fungus and viruses, the vast majority of which are part of you and help your body work properly. But what happens when foreign substances enter the gut?

The immune system needs to find a fine balance between what should be there doing its job and what needs to be eliminated. If it lets through too many substances, eventually you'll get sick, and if the immune system is too aggressive, you'll suffer an autoimmune reaction.

To find this balance, your gut needs to function properly.

Want to learn more about how diet and exercise impacts the immune system? Check out our complete guide!

Immunity training ground

The gut stretches from your gastrointestinal tract through your stomach and your intestines and is home to a mindboggling number of microbes collectively known as the microbiota. As a general rule, the more microbes and the larger variety of microbes, the better your health.

The bacteria in the gut start developing already in the womb and continues to develop throughout life but there is still a lot we don't know about the relationship between the microbiota and your overall health. We know for sure that your gut health impacts your mood, mental health and – of course – your immune system.

Around 70-80% of all immune cells live in the gut, so in a way, the gut is immunity central. While everything you eat and drink end up in the gut, it's also routinely exposed to pathogens that it needs to get rid of. The immune cells recognise what bacteria and viruses are good and bad and work to get rid of the bad ones.

Interestingly, it appears the gut microbiota doesn't only support the immune system in the gut, it also assists by sending immune cells to support other organs, like your lungs. The gut also works as a training ground for identifying foreign substances that enter the gut – lessons it uses in the rest of the body.

Protect your gut health

In pandemic times, we tend to use a lot of antibacterial and alcohol-based hand sanitiser. These products may not be the best for your gut health, so try to use warm water and soap instead whenever possible.

A diet that is good for your gut is also a diet that is good for your immune system and your overall health. The microbes thrive on fibre, so make sure you eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Now the bad news: the gut does not thrive on sugar, refined carbohydrates (think processed food) or alcohol. So to feed your gut well, limit products containing these things.

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