You rely on your immune system to protect you from infections and keep you healthy … and here’s where gut health comes in.
Every day pathogens — like infectious bacteria, viruses, and toxins — threaten your health. Your immune system has special cells that patrol constantly so they can detect those pathogens immediately. Once your immune system sees what it’s up against, it responds with powerful weapons to defeat the threat before it affects your health.
When it’s working properly, that is.
Your immune system can’t function properly — or fully protect you — without the support of good bacteria in your gut. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much to throw your gut bacteria out of balance and sabotage your immune system.
Your Immune System Relies on Your Gut Health
Your gut microbiome contains trillions of bacteria, both good and bad. When your gut microbiome has a healthy balance, good bacteria (probiotics) outnumber bad bacteria (pathogens) and contribute to your overall wellbeing.
The probiotic bacteria in your gut help shape and train your immune system, and supply it with supportive nutrients and healing compounds. And since more than 70 percent of your immune system resides in your gut, you can see why healthy balance is so important.
But when your gut microbiome falls out of balance and into a state of dysbiosis, bad bacteria outnumber good bacteria. When that happens, your gut microbiome has a negative impact on your immune system.
Dysbiosis can lead your immune system to overreact, creating inflammation and attacking your own healthy cells. It can also cause an immune system under-reaction, which leaves you extra vulnerable to any infections that are going around.
Unfortunately, your gut microbiome faces damaging threats every day. And any one of those threats can sabotage the balance … and healthy immune system function.
These 7 Gut Health Disruptors Weaken Your Immune System
Gut dysbiosis damages your immune system and the way it responds to infections. That’s why it’s crucial to get your gut microbiome in healthy balance and keep it there.
But many features of everyday life work against a healthy gut microbiome and immune system, leaving you extra vulnerable to infections. Some of the worst culprits include:
- Antibiotics and other medications – including proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), beta-blockers, and antidepressants – can cause dysbiosis, sometimes after a single dose.
- Pesticides, including glyphosate, can kill beneficial gut bacteria, allowing bad bacteria to dominate the microbiome.
- Processed foods full of sugar and unhealthy fats encourage pathogen overgrowth and starve out probiotic bacteria, which naturally thrive on prebiotic fiber.
- Stress and anxiety negatively affect your gut microbiome through a two-way path known as the gut-brain axis; emotional stress causes dysbiosis and dysbiosis increases emotional stress, leaving you trapped in a damaging feedback loop.
- Environmental toxins, including household cleaners and heavy metals, negatively change the makeup and function of the gut microbiome, leading to increased risk of disease.
- Sedentary lifestyle leads to increased populations of pathogenic gut bacteria and lower diversity in the gut microbiome, contributing to increased risk of chronic diseases and infections.
- Lack of sleep and poor sleep quality can cause dysbiosis, leading to a weakened immune system.
Any of these factors can interfere with a healthy gut microbiome, but it’s even more likely that you’re experiencing several at once. And when your gut becomes unbalanced, it has an enormous effect on your immune system.
How Gut Imbalance Upsets Your Immune System
Dysbiosis interferes with healthy immune system activity in a few different ways.
Harmful bacteria produce many damaging toxins, including lipopolysaccharides (LPS toxins). Both the bad bacteria and their toxic by-products attack the protective lining — known as the gut barrier — inside the intestines.
The gut barrier’s job is to allow nutrients out into the bloodstream while keeping pathogens and toxins safely locked inside the gut. When bad bacteria, LPS toxins, and other harmful compounds attack, they damage the gut barrier and escape into the bloodstream. From there, they can reach any part of your body and do even more harm.
Your immune system detects these threats and starts to respond. It uses inflammation as one of its main defensive weapons. Since new threats constantly leak through the gut barrier, your immune system can’t shut down its responses. That leads to system-wide, long-term inflammation — the root cause of many autoimmune and chronic conditions.
At the same time, the bad bacteria in the gut prevent good bacteria from flourishing. Probiotic bacteria play a crucial role in optimal immune function by:
- Helping digest food completely and increasing nutrient absorption
- Producing essential nutrients such as B vitamins and vitamin K
- Producing short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that help regulate immune cell function
- Creating anti-inflammatory compounds
- Protecting against pathogens
- Maintaining a strong gut barrier
So, in dysbiosis, when bad bacteria are in charge, your immune system loses out on all of that support.
The solution: Rebalance the gut microbiome so beneficial bacteria can flourish and get your immune system back on track.
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