As research has shown over the years, our digestive systems do more than simply digest our food. How to heal the gut to help with everything from immunity to elevating our moods?
Michael S. Evangel, DC, a chiropractic physician and host of “The Super Mike Show—America’s Holistic Hero” (on the Streaming Health TV Network, a Roku Network), knows a ton about the gut and what patients need when asking how to heal the gut for maximum immunity.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What are the different ways in which the gut and digestive system benefits the body?
Having a healthy gut is vital for good health. The gut however can’t do its job without the beneficial microbes that occupy the gut. Having a ratio of at least 85% beneficial microbes to less than 15% of pathological microbes is ideal.
We have about 100 trillion microbes weighing about 2-3 pounds in us and on us. The healthy balance of the various species of beneficial microbes varies greatly depending on the area of the body where these microbes reside.
The main functions of the gut are:
- Digesting food and providing the raw nutrient materials that are needed by every cell of the body.
- The elimination of wastes.
- Neurological function – the gut contains the “enteric brain,” which are the neurons in the sheaths lining the digestive system (the gut actually contains more neurons than the spinal cord).
- The gut produces about 95% of the body’s serotonin. Serotonin is the feel-good hormone that elevates mood.
- The gut regulates the immune system. Without a healthy gut, we can’t obtain optimal immunity.
What ways does the gut affect the body and interact with immunity?
The health of our gut significantly impacts brain function, as far as mental clarity, decision making, mood, coping with stress and anxiety, as well as the ability to perform complex problem solving.
In the gut resides a complex microbiome, consisting of trillions of microorganisms and is an integral component of the immune system.
Pathogens attempt to enter the body through the intestinal mucosa. It is therefore crucial that the gut-associated lymphoid tissues supply an appropriate immune response when necessary. A hyperactive immune system however can result in inflammatory disorders such as celiac disease or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
There are quite a variety of immune cells associated with the gut, including plasma cells, mast cells, activated T cells, macrophages and dendritic cells.
Even though the intestinal epithelium is made up of only a single cell layer, this single cell layer forms an effective barrier against the penetration of microorganisms. When defects in this barrier occur that can contribute to the development of inflammation and IBS.
When considering how to heal the gut, how can having a healthy gut affect immunity?
When the gut is healthy, there are appropriate responses when pathological microorganisms are present. An underactive immune system can allow pathogens to take hold and can lead to an aggressive pathology. An overactive immune system can result in chronic inflammation and autoimmune disease.
A properly functioning immune system is dependent on having all of the gut based immune functions working in synergy.
Research at Harvard Medical School published late last year pinpointed a specific species of gut microbes called Bacteroides fragilis that causes immune cells to release virus-repelling chemicals known as type 1 interferons.
Interferon signaling that offers antiviral protection in the absence of active infection is present in all humans shortly after birth, but where and how this signaling occurs had remained unclear until this research occurred.
Type 1 interferon response arises from immune cells that reside in the walls of the colon. These cells release protective interferons when stimulated by a surface molecule residing on the membrane of the Bacteroides fragilis, which is present in the majority of human gut microbiomes. Bacteroides fragilis initiates a signaling cascade that stimulates immune cells in the colon to release a protein called interferon-beta, an important immune component that provides antiviral protection by causing virus-infected cells to self-destruct and stimulates other classes of immune cells to attack viruses.
Specifically, the research demonstrated that the molecule that resides on the bacterium’s surface triggers the release of interferon-beta by activating the TLR4-TRIF signaling pathway.
The specific surface molecule that unlocks this cascade is not unique to B. fragilis. It is also present on other gut bacteria of the same family.
What can an unhealthy gut do to the immune system?
An unhealthy gut can cause an immune system to totally malfunction. When the gut and the immune system is out of synch, the body is more susceptible to all pathogens, including viruses and bacteria. When the single-celled gut lining is disrupted, viruses can enter the body much more easily.
Some of the biggest mistakes patients make are:
- Having a diet that is predominantly composed of fast food, processed food, and junk food
- Not drinking enough pure water
- Not getting proper sleep
- Being frequently stressed out and angry
- Not getting adequate exercise
Use common sense as your guide to a healthy lifestyle regarding how to heal the gut, and whenever you are unsure, always go with your gut feelings!