The Ultimate Guide to the Gut-Immune Axis
We all want to feel our best at all times. Many people equate fighting off a cold or battling through flu season to a robust immune system. They are right. Our body produces immune cells that help our body fight off intruders such as inflammations, free radicals, and viruses. However, these cells must come from somewhere. This moment is where your gut biome steps in. Let’s take a close look at the gut-immune axis.
What is the Immune System?
Our immune system is a bit of an octopus. It has its appendages in so many other areas of our internal ecosystem. The immune system is represented in parts of our body including:
- Digestive system
- Bone marrow
- Lymph nodes
- Skin on Orifices
Tissues, organs, and cells in these areas work together with three common goals. They want to identify any intruders and come up with a plan to extract them. Oh, and they want to do it fast!
When our body encounters a pathogen, there are two different ways it may react. Let’s take a look at these two types of immune responses.
Parts of the Immune System
Our body is so amazing. It can figure out how to handle intruders in the short-term and the long-term. The immune system looks at your body as a chess board and plans its response strategically.
The immune system wouldn’t function without cells. The cells that run the joint include:
- Antibodies – Incite Inflammation to Defeat Invaders
- B-Cells – Produce Antibodies and Cytokines to Promote Inflammation
- Killer T-Cells – Aid B-Cells in Destroying Infiltrator
- Helper T-Cells – Assist Killer and B-Cells
- Lymphocytes – Immune Cells from Lymphatic System, Includes B-Cells and T-Cells
- Regulatory T-Cells – Regulates How Long Inflammation Lasts
In a healthy gut biome, these cells take care of everything. As poor gut health mounts, the cells get a bit frustrated and lash out. They attack other cells or can’t get to areas of the body in need of help. As a result, your intestinal flora is more susceptible to invasion.
Immune System and Inflammation
If you haven’t noticed the theme here–the immune system incites inflammation. Sparking inflammation may sound counteractive, but it’s actually quite helpful.
Acute inflammation damages the intruder and then gets put out by anti-inflammatory cells. It’s like the forest rangers performed a controlled brush fire.
The protection of the system is overseen by two parts with two different goals. One manages the day-to-day tasks while the other has long-term goals. Let’s get to know them better.
Innate Immune System
This is the first line of defense for our body against invaders. The innate immune system has no memory. It reacts swiftly like a venus fly trap capturing an insect. Except, innate immune cells attack viruses and inflammation.
Your innate immune response creates an acute inflammation.
The innate immune system is responsible for:
- Red/Blotchy Skin – Red Blood Cells with Immunity Properties Rushing to Area
- Swelling – Liquids Healing the Area Build Up, Causing Heat
- Pain – Throbbing Lets You Know Consciously That There’s an Invader
Your innate immune system strikes first and asks questions later. However, your body also has a long-term plan for immune support.
Adaptive Immune System
The immune system has an uncanny ability to evolve. It has a “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me” mentality. When your body gets ravaged by a virus or disease and wins, it creates an antibody.
Antibodies ensure that the system will never get infiltrated by this specific intruder again. This process is why you can’t get chicken pox after the first time. It’s also how vaccines operate. We get injected with enough of the polio strain, so our body develops antibodies to defeat the disease.
Types of Immunity Issues
Immune responses come in many forms. They are dependent on the pathogen that triggered the response in the first place. Some of these situations are as fleeting as a cold. Whereas others are incurable conditions such as AIDS.
Some of the most common causes of an immune response include:
- Body Rejection of Transplant Organs
- Autoimmune Disease
Immune responses are of course, created by our immune system. So, let’s take a look at what exactly comprises this complex environment.
Gut Health and Immune System
Our body is a complex system run by chemical reactions continuously happening inside. We tend to take these interactions for granted because for the most part, they pose no threat.When left to their own devices, the microbes living in our system captain the ship without a hiccup. This harmonious community of cells is known as your microbiome.
Gut Flora and Impact on Wellness
Unfortunately, numerous compounds we ingest are disrupting our gut health. Some are the usual suspects, like pesticides and GMOs. Others are things we’d never expect to hurt our intestinal flora!
After a lifetime of processed foods, toxic cosmetics, and stress, our gut health becomes compromised. Eventually, these foreign substances create an overly acidic environment.
When the pH balance goes past 7, your microbiome becomes harder for probiotic bacteria to survive. As a result, inflammations flare up.
Inflammation and Gut Brain Connection
Inflammation plays a role in every type of disease, condition, or illness. Whether it’s an autoimmune disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, or eczema, there is an inflammation at the root of the problem. Studies indicate that managing these conditions is dependent on finding harmony between the brain and the gut *.
You may have heard that the gut is the second brain. One influences the other, and as a result, we experience the benefits and consequences of their unhappiness.
The gut and brain aren’t exactly next to one another. Yet, the gut brain connection is so strong. Therefore, they must rely on other cells and neurotransmitters to make communication efficient. Specifically, communication between the gut and brain relies on immune cells.
What is the Gut-Immune System Axis?
From our brain stem down to our colon, our body is constructed with a network that consists of cells in the trillions. The main component of this structure is known as the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve is attached to the end of the brain stem and dips into the top of the gut biome. From there, the neural tissues at the end of the vagus nerve survey the situation. What it reports back depends on the intestinal flora in your GI tract.
If there is an overly acidic atmosphere a-brewing, these vapors will trigger the tissues on the vagus nerve. This action releases neurotransmitters to the brain. Through the gut-brain connection, your mind interprets the message. Consequently, you experience the symptoms of the signal.
Vagus Nerve and Immune Cells
Along the pathway of the vagus nerve are thousands of immune cells. Their presence is so heavily felt that many science journals call our immune system the bridge that leads from the gut to the brain.
That’s because the immune cells are gut’s first line of defense. These little cells act as the moat that protects the castle from invasion. In fact, up to 80% of the immune cells our body creates are formed in the gut *.
Immune Cells and Hormones
Immune cells do more than just get us ready to fight off a cold. They also play a pivotal role in communication along the gut-brain axis. Studies show that immune cells can produce neurotransmitters. These are our body’s built-in communication dialect.
Interestingly enough, neurotransmitters have a lot of influence on our emotional response to situations. Some of the most well known-neurotransmitters include:
- GABA – Calming Neurotransmitter
- Dopamine – Reward Hormone
- Serotonin – Joy Neurotransmitter
- Melatonin – Sleep Cycle Regulating Hormone
- Testosterone/Estrogen – Reproductive Hormones
Seeing as neurotransmitters cover such a broad spectrum, this further illustrates the intertwined relationship between the gut, brain, and immune systems.
Autoimmune Disease and Gut Health
To further prove that everything is all connected, the immune system relies on your microbiome to keep it stable. When our gut health is out of whack, it’s known as dysbiosis. This means toxins are influencing your intestinal flora negatively. Many of the time, these adverse reactions are due to Leaky Gut Syndrome.
Studies have found that dysbiosis can lead to autoimmune disease issues *. That means everything from autism to Crohn’s Disease to Parkinson’s Disease all boil down to the bacteria (or lack thereof) in our human gut microbiota.
What Causes Autoimmune Disease?
What causes an autoimmune disease to develop are instances where an excited electron loses its way from the pack. When this happens, the excitatory molecule becomes a free radical and may latch onto anything that accepts an electron.
Naturally, the electron and its new companion will chemically react. Depending on what this rogue electron attached itself onto, the results may be catastrophic to your immune system.
Immune cells do more than just keep us from using our sick days on actually being sick. They also keep us alive. This was discovered in a study involving fruit flies. Unbelievably, humans and fruit flies have “70 % similarity in terms of their biochemical pathways * .”
When scientists discovered that increasing the biodiversity of microbes in fruit flies’ systems increased their lifespan by 60%, it opened up researchers’ eyes. By supplementing with probiotics, these insects’ immune responses protected them against “chronic diseases associated with aging.”
Allergies and Immune Response
Some of the most common reasons for an increased allergic response among humans include:
- Use of Pesticides
- Consumption of Processed Foods
- Increased Intake of Artificial Sugars/Coloring
- GMOs Altering DNA of Microorganisms *
- Lack of Biodiversity in Microbiome
- High-Fat Diets
- Eating Food Treated With Hormones
Stomach Bacteria Associated with Immunity Issues
Now that you have a better understanding of how the body works as a whole to keep you healthy, you should get to know the microbes making it happen. They are the unsung heroes of our daily lives.
Seeing as we interact with so many people, travel to several areas throughout the day, and come in contact with a litany of items others touch, our immune system is always on edge. It’s like your child saying “mom” or “dad’ over and over again. These outside forces are constantly poking the bear that is your immune system.
While a few cases of sniffles typically do the trick in expelling these nuisances, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, these little critters can be quite cagey. Unfortunately, there are hoards of opportunistic bacteria out there that can do lasting damage to immune cells if they remain unchecked.
Common bacterium known to wreak havoc on immune cells includes Listeria monocytogenes. This well-known food-borne pathogen is dangerous because it can survive in the presence of oxygen. You know…the thing we need to survive? Due to its aggressive nature on our system, 20% to 30% of cases of Listeria end in fatality *.
When your immune system is beaten down, another opportunistic bacterium likes to rear its ugly head. Agrobacterium has been shown to change the genetic code in plants *. Seeing as Agrobacterium infects the elderly, newborns, and those with low immune cells, it may also alter the DNA of these impressionable systems as well. As a result, Agrobacterium can become a catalyst for the development of autoimmune diseases.
As we noted, the immune cells crowd around the gut-brain axis. Therefore, immune cells are also present in reproductive regions. Unfortunately for many, immune systems can be easily compromised in these oft-ignored yet, regularly-used areas.
Studies have found that pathogenic bacterium like Campylobacter fetus has a profound impact on men and women. This opportunistic bacteria contains many surface layers. Due to its complex composition, Campylobacter fetus can actually trick immune cells. CAMPylobacter? More like CAMOylobacter!While most sexually transmitted infections are superficial, Campylobacter fetus may negatively impact reproductive systems *.
This is especially true if a male transmits the bacteria to a female. Cases of transmission increase the chances of infertility exponentially, much like the immune-suppressing bacteria strain, Chlamydia trachomatis *.
Just like the reproductive system is affected by our immune cells, so is our respiratory system. After all, why else do you take immune-boosting supplements when it’s cough-and-cold season?
There are many bacteria inside of our body that wait for the right opportunity to strike a lessened immune system. When this happens, strains of bacteria such as Escherichia adecarboxylata can spawn an upper respiratory tract infection *. Even scarier, strains of bacteria like Escherichia adecarboxylata are beginning to exhibit traits of antibiotic resistance.
Ways To Improve Your Immune System
Temporary AIP Diet
Food is so critical to immune health. While pollution and pesticides may be beyond our control, we can control what we ingest. Every food we consume, healthy or not, is made of chemical compounds.
Each time we eat something, we are eating those compounds, causing a chemical reaction with the compounds already in our bodies. Depending on the food, some of these interactions may cause a negative effect that may result in stomach pains, anxiety, or skin irritations.
If a food causes consistent immune responses, this may cause a problem down the line. That’s because these irritations might spring inflammations. In turn, your body is susceptible to the development of an autoimmune disease.
Nuts-and-bolts, a temporary AIP Diet is retracting processed and synthetic foods from the menu plan. However, other common allergens are also eliminated.
Stay away from these foods to follow a temporary Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP Diet):
- Dairy Products
- Seeds and Nuts
- Refined Sugars
- Processed Foods
- Nightshade Vegetables
- Alternative Sweeteners
Just make sure you are only using high-quality olive oils, eating more fermented foods, and consuming collagen and gelatin (such as bone broth). These little dietary tweaks will all go a long way in helping you absorb nutrients more efficiently while repairing your gut lining.
Diversify Your Microbiome
Probiotics and Immune System
Studies have shown that decreased activity of Lactobacillus acidophilus in the gut may be the reason behind frequent bouts of the common cold *. However, this isn’t the only strain of Lactobacillus that has proven to have a lasting effect on our immune systems.
Two distinct strains of Lactobacillus paracasei have a monumental impact on how our body defends itself. Research has proven that Lactobacillus paracasei Th1 and Th2 modulate the immune system in their own unique way. Together, these strains of bacteria have a strong resistance to allergic reactions that eat away at your immune cells *.
As you may have noticed, there are strains dubbed Th1 and Th2. This corresponds with some other scientific breakthroughs that have been discovered with probiotics.
Over time, the absence of these probiotic strains can lead to the development of autoimmune diseases. The first line of defense against these traitors are other T-Cells *. Unfortunately for T-Cells, they too are the target of autoimmune disease.
Studies have found that having beneficial probiotic strains in your system helps create more helper T-Cells *.
There are two types of helper T-Cells:
- TH1 (T Helper Cell 1) – Generates Response to Attacks
- TH2 (T Helper Cell 2) – Deals with Attacks
Microbiome Testing To Boost Immune System
Our immune cells are the formative ones that gave us structure as a fetus in our mother’s womb. Diversity within the microbiome is what keeps the cells strong. As they say, kids need to roll around in the dirt and get exposed to germs to boost their immune system! This is why research suggests that having an abundance of probiotics in your system will help you fight through cough-and-cold season.
To achieve diversity, you need to know what you are working with first. That’s why you need microbiome testing. At Ombre, we use microbiome testing to determine your levels of bacteria within your gut. Based on the intestinal flora in the sample and your symptoms, we recommend strain-specific probiotics to promote balanced immunity health.
In addition to probiotics, be sure to up your intake of micronutrients. Many of those preventative cough-and-cold remedies rely on nutrients you can find in everyday foods. Instead of splurging on over-the-counter medicines rich in Vitamin C and zinc, consume more probiotic fruits and vegetables. Eating whole foods full of beneficial micronutrients is especially crucial during the changing of seasons.