How can improving your digestive health impact on your total health? The secret lies with the immune system and the overall benefits may surprise you.
Do you ever get butterflies or that ‘sick feeling’ in your tummy? Are stress and anxiety taking over and causing stomach upset? Do you find it hard to drop off and stay asleep? Are inflammation or Gastrointestinal (GI) issues a problem?
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Since there is a link with the enteric (gut) nervous system and the central nervous system, all of these health issues are linked too. So digestive health issues can trigger health problems in other parts of the body.
But fear not – daily choices can help us to gain control over the body’s responses. This series of articles will help you to learn about the connection between the immune system and the digestive tract.
We will show you how to regain control over the immune system. Finally, we suggest some simple lifestyle changes to improve digestive health and help your immune system handle stress.
The impact of stress on the immune system
Life is already demanding. In times of crisis, such as during a global pandemic, there is an extra layer of complexity. Dental professionals understand this in a very intimate way. In order to make a living, we have to risk contagion just like many other front line workers.
Protecting oneself implies doubling up on PPE, taking extra precautions and trying to disinfect as much as possible. Those who make these extra efforts to protect themselves are sometimes challenged by coworkers’ lax attitudes. Now more than ever, the sources of stress seem to be increasing.
Stress is harmful in many ways. Not only does it create an unpleasant feeling in us but it also leads to physiological changes in the body.
One of the key changes to the body during a pandemic is in our immune system function. Stress can bring on a reduction in the function of our immune system.
So, since stress is inevitable, how can we control our body’s response to it? The first thing is to know what the immune system actually is. Next is to think about how much of it is in our digestive tract. And lastly, what we have to do in order to look after it.
The immune system in the digestive tract
As per an article sponsored by the Australian State Government, “The immune system is made up of special organs, cells and chemicals that fight infection (microbes).” The gut is such an organ, and this is found in the digestive tract.
The mouth is the start of the digestive tract. Dental professionals know how the mouth relates to the overall health of their patients.
The circulatory, muscular, skeletal, and nervous systems, all present in the mouth, work with the digestive system to keep the body fit and well.
The immune system ties closely to the digestive system. According to the study “Allergy and the Gastrointestinal System“, about 70% of the immune system lies in and is produced by the GALT or Gut-associated Lymphoid Tissue in the gut. In other words, the body gets immune protection straight from the gut. The article, “Immunity in the gut” lays this out well.
These facts make the digestive system very interesting to dental care workers. If we know the links to, and repercussions of a damaged immune system, it will help us to look after ourselves and help our patients.
Digestive health and the brain
A further fact about the digestive system concerns how it is directly linked to the nervous system. Some refer to this connection of the brain and the gut as “the gut-brain axis”.
This is why we feel many emotions right in the digestive tract, e.g. the butterflies or the sick feeling in the stomach. This video from Duke University explains the link between the two.
Many neurotransmitters, like Serotonin, come from the gut lining. The article, “Neurotransmitters: The critical modulators regulating gut-brain axis“, tells us that Serotonin, or the mood neurotransmitter, is mostly made in the (ENS) Enteric Nervous System and to a lesser extent in the Central Nervous System (CNS). Melatonin, another neurotransmitter that helps us to sleep and fights inflammation, is produced from Serotonin.
A lack of these neurotransmitters or a disruption in their production can lead to emotional disorders like anxiety and depression. This disruption may also contribute to the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
The article “The Gut-brain axis: how the microbiome influences anxiety and depression” gives a breakdown of the biology of some mood disorders in detail, and tells us why the gut flora is so crucial.
Attacks on our digestive health
We all know the phrase ‘we are what we eat’. But even when we make an effort to eat well, some things are still out of our control. For example, what foods are available to buy and how they are treated with chemicals. Luckily, there are ways around these problems if we know what they are.
Roundup is used in many countries as a crop herbicide and desiccant – often for grains. Knowing this should help us to be more selective with the foods we buy.
Foods treated with glyphosate weaken our digestive health. Glyphosate is extremely harmful to the gut epithelial layer where so many protective mechanisms for the body take place.
The breakdown of this thin epithelial layer in the gut and its subsequent systemic effects has been dubbed “leaky-gut syndrome“. This is a new science and few doctors understand this syndrome or take the time to learn about its effects.
So it is quite common to feel symptoms that a doctor will simply dismiss. Too few doctors make the link with our digestive health and our total body health.
How to protect our immune system with better digestive health
In spite of the challenges, there are things that one can do to protect the immune system. Firstly, we can protect the digestive tract. A great way to nurture it is with the liquid supplements and naturally fermented foods. These things, when used daily, helps to heal the epithelial lining and restore the beneficial gut flora. A healthy epithelial lining keeps chronic inflammation at bay, and the immune system strong.
Next, take the time to find and support small local farms. Ask if these farms use crop rotation which is crucial for nutrient density. Also ask if they avoid adding artificial fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides to their crops. ‘Community supported agriculture‘ allows you control over what you eat while supporting sustainable farming practices.
Lastly, the amount of chemicals and contaminants found in foods and cosmetics can be checked through the Environmental Working Group‘s website. They test thousands of products and provide a rating system that ranks their contamination levels. This helps the consumer to make informed decisions before buying.
Stay tuned for more articles to get practical steps to heal the digestive tract and work ones way back to health.
Total Health with Natural Products
We all use products every day containing chemicals which do not support total health. Visit our shop of Natural Products and the page Total Health in 3 Easy Steps for practical lifestyle recommendations.
These products and recommendations help to strengthen your gut health, support healthy living and help maintain total health.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Do not use these products to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.