Crucial to Immune Health: A Healthy Microbiome; It’s 70% of our immune system

The microbiome is inextricably linked to our immunity, with a growing body of research agreeing that 70% of the entire human immune system is found in the “gut”– as well as 80% of plasma cells responsible for antibody production.

A new study reveals that the gut microorganisms of COVID-19 patients were very different (lacking good bacteria) than those in uninfected people and that the microbiome disruption lasted long after the virus was gone. This research is profound, and as more people digest that their microbiome is the very “lab” of their immune system, more people will make gut health a burning priority.

Dr. Pelletier explains how insanely complex the microbiome is: “It’s all the cells, organisms and bacteria living in our intestinal tract, from the mouth to the anus, which carry out all the vital functions of nutrient absorption, digestion and excretion. We’re talking more than 100 trillion cells (far more complex than our 23,000 gene pairs)–and even more complex for women if you add the tens of millions of reproductive organ cells). So, it’s an incredibly complex system to crack, like putting a stethoscope to a computer to make inferences on how it works. But we know that the microbiome is headquarters for developing both innate and adaptive immunity and for maintaining immune-stabilization.”

Dr Lipman adds: “The gut wall is the crucial barrier between your body and the outside world (which hits us with toxic substances/food, bacteria, viruses, etc.). You create a strong, protective gut wall (which determines what’s allowed into your system or not) by feeding the microbiome what it needs to thrive, and that prevents “bad” bacteria from getting out of control and overwhelming the good, which results in a ‘leaky’ gut making you susceptible to systemic inflammation. The relationship between gut health and immunity is huge, and far too many people ignore it: They have digestive problems, bloating and gas, and think it’s normal because everyone else does too.”

How to create a healthier microbiome? Dr. Pelletier: “There is strong evidence that probiotics (fermented foods) and prebiotic functional foods have an immuno-stabilization effect on the body–probably the reason why they’re a central part of the diet of every long-lived culture on the planet. And intermittent fasting and personalized nutrition are important strategies.” (More below.)

A deluge of “gut health” supplements are flooding the market, and the patents are spawning globally for new ways to work them into functional food and beverages.

The basics:

Eat a diet full of diverse fiber sources–again, colorful plates full of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Fiber specifically impacts the microbiomes in the digestive walls and keeps pathogens moving through the gut.

Cut way down on any processed (this is key) foods, and foods packed with sugar, starch, refined grains, and artificial sweeteners.

Stay well-hydrated. Dr. Ross Walton of Imperial College London notes that drinking lots of water is “vastly overlooked” in immunity, as dehydration damages the mucus layer in the respiratory tract that contains important antibodies.”

Eat prebiotics regularly, found in numerous fruits and vegetables with fiber and resistant starch. Because your body can’t digest them, they become food for probiotics and other healthy bacteria and microbes. Potent amounts are found in garlic, asparagus, onions, leeks, yams, bananas, artichokes, whole grains, and chicory root (the trendy new coffee alternative.)

Eat probiotics–fermented foods–daily, as they contain live organisms and bacteria that add healthy microbes to your gut. They include yogurt and kefir with “live cultures,” sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, and kombucha (so wildly popular it’s almost become a whole “economy”).

Now “postbiotics” are hitting 2021 wellness trends reports, with mega-food-company ADM arguing that they’re the future. They are defined as “the “waste” of gut microbes after the process of fermentation (also living in some fermented foods or made by inactivating a probiotic). Because postbiotics are not live (like prebiotics), they may be much easier (no refrigeration needed) to roll into more supplements and foods/beverages. Research is in early days.

With COVID-19, research on the microbiome’s outsized relationship to human immune function will only heat up, and researchers argue that while they’re getting a stronger understanding of who the microbiome key “players” are, they’re still struggling to identify which components are essential to overall health and immunity. There are only 10,000 public microbiome samples available, so it’s like genome testing’s early days. While the evidence-based approaches today seem basic, consumers will increasingly get the connection between gut and immune health, and they will embrace both the basics and new experiments.


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