Part 3 of 4 Part Series
In addition to creating boundaries and acknowledging feelings, it’s important to remember at this time to pay attention to your IMMUNE system. Having a strong immune system takes work and now more than ever we can see the importance of hand washing, social distancing and how having a compromised immune system can greatly affect your ability to fight off life threatening viruses like COVID-19.
What many people don’t realize is that “GUT health” plays a significant role in driving your immune system. In fact, 70% of your immunity resides within your gut. That’s where billions of little microscopic bacteria are responsible for fighting off pesky invaders that try to take you down. So, it’s important to understand what a healthy gut looks like and know where things can go wrong. Then, we can repair, when needed, which will ultimately impact your ability to fight-off illness (P.S. your ability to lose weight also, if desired).
Here is the process of what normal digestion looks like:
- Your intestines, both small and large are where you digest and absorb nutrients from all the food and beverages you consume.
- Before hitting the intestines, food is broken down mechanically (chewing) and enzymatically (saliva) in your mouth.
- It then travels down the esophagus to your stomach where more enzymes and acids along with muscular contractions are used to break down food further.
- The next stop is the small intestine where hundreds of millions of little villi (finger-like projections from the lining of the small intestine) help to move food along, and further digest and absorb nutrients from proteins, fats and carbohydrates with the help of secretions from some of your major organs like the pancreas, gall bladder, liver and over 500 different species of bacteria.
- After traveling through the small intestine, waste products are moved through the large intestine (5 ft long and full of bacteria) and out via the toilet.
- When you consider this somewhat complicated process, you can imagine that there are a lot of places where things can go wrong.
If you are not digesting and absorbing your food properly, you can suffer from many symptoms and ailments, the most common of which is fatigue and an increased chance of illness. If you are unable to access energy from food, you will feel run down, and be more likely to get sick easily. However, if you keep your gut in check and have healthy sleep habits, you can expect to have optimal energy and a stronger immune system.
What typically goes wrong is at some point in your life you came down with an infection that required the use of antibiotics. Although the antibiotics killed the bacteria that caused your sickness, they also wiped out much of the friendly bacteria in your intestinal tract. Antibiotics, although helpful and needed sometimes, are basically like a nuclear BOMB to your gut, killing off most of the bacteria. But, the “bad guys” tend to linger around because pathogenic bacteria are much more resistant to antibiotics. These bad guys need something to survive, SUGAR! Because of this, cravings increase, you gladly oblige almost subconsciously, because let’s face it, it’s SO HARD to avoid the whisper and taunt of the “white devil”, aka, sugar.
This then creates something called dysbiosis (overgrowth of the bad guys) in your gut. This then leads to INFLAMMATION, which in the gut can look like:
- Constipation, diarrhea, gas or bloating
- Joint and muscle aches and pains
- “Brain fog”
- Acne, rashes or eczema in your largest organ, the skin
Again, since, 70% of your immunity resides in the gut, you can imagine the impact of inflammation on your immune system. This leads to illness, a trip to the doctor for more antibiotics, and the vicious cycle starts all over again.
As you can see, sugar intake is one of the major catalysts to creating and feeding the imbalance of good vs. bad bacteria in your gut. However, it’s important to note that other things perpetuate this process as well:
- alcohol consumption
- The lack of nutrient-dense foods like fruits and vegetables (which actually FEED the good bacteria),
- Certain medications
- Existing gastrointestinal disorders
- Consumption of certain foods which may be problematic to you specifically
- Poor sleeping habits
However, there is GREAT news! YOU have the ability to control and impact your gut health right now — to make it more of a utopic and stable atmosphere. Below are action steps you can take to begin improving your gut health and immune system today!
Consume less sugar. Permitting yourself to have a piece of birthday cake, a handful of chocolate, a decadent dessert on your anniversary is all normal and OK to do from time to time. But we all know how this can get quickly out of control. It goes from an occasional “hit” to daily cravings to a “need” for it. On top of this, your brain gets hijacked and excited every single time, leading to more sugar intake, which provides a first-class ticket on the SUGAR TRAIN EXPRESS. Sound familiar??
How to hop off the sugar train! It only takes a few days to accomplish. We recommend eliminating all processed sugar for 3-4 days (cakes, cookies, chocolate, ice cream, etc.) and incorporate at least two servings of fresh fruit daily, as this will help with withdrawal from the processed sugars. Yes, withdrawal. This is the first step to repairing the gut, starve those bad guys!!
Add the “good guys” back in: This can be done in a few ways. The first way, and most recommended, is to incorporate a daily, high-quality, probiotic. (For specific recommendations and options, see footnote) and by incorporating more fermented foods like Kombucha, kimchi, miso and sauerkraut.
Further and more advanced healing of the gut: To accomplish this we recommend incorporating daily supplementation of something called L-Glutamine (an amino acid that can act as aloe on the lining of your intestines) and a quality fish oil (EPA/DHA) supplement, which its anti-inflammatory properties help put out that fire (inflammation).
Manage stress levels. Keep in mind the gut/brain connection. Many neurotransmitters are made in the gut. In fact, 80% of your serotonin develops in the gut. Daily meditation, exercise, positive thoughts, etc. are all ways to manage stress, use what works best for you or try a new technique! Whatever it is, it’s important to engage in daily stress-relieving activities to keep things running well.
Watch out for underlying food sensitivities. If you have signs or symptoms of food sensitivities (low energy levels, acne, bloating, consistent bowel issues, inflammation anywhere), it’s important to make an appointment with one of our dietitians who can help you detect the root cause. Learn about our personal nutrition coaching at inspirenutrition.com.
Incorporate the basic Micronutrients proven to contribute to a health immune system – Vitamin C, Vitamin D and Zinc are a few we know can help!
Increase Vitamin C intake: Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and is found in citrus fruits, strawberries, colorful bell peppers, potatoes, etc. You can also use a supplement. However, be sure to only consume 500mg at a time, otherwise you may experience diarrhea and/or excrete the remaining amount via urine, making it really expensive pee!
Get some sunshine! Vitamin D plays a HUGE roll in immune health. Aim to allow sunlight to hit your skin for at least 10 minutes each day. Supplement with Vitamin D3 if you know you are deficient (a simple blood test can tell you). And, keep in mind, there are NO good food sources of this vitamin, therefore supplementation may be necessary. You can safely start with 1000-2000 IUs daily, and we (at Inspire Nutrition) can dose this for you exactly if we have opportunity to review your bloodwork.
Hopefully you now see how your gut health directly impacts your immune system and overall health. By becoming aware of how your body works, with education from our experts, you can put a plan in place that will get you on the road to your best self. And it starts with your GUT! For specific recommendations on any of the supplements we referenced in this article and how to access them, please see below!
UltraFlora Balance by Metagenics – InspireNutrition.metagenics.com
We can also recommend more advances formulas for specific stomach and intestinal conditions.
Vitamin D3 by Metagenics
Vitamin C (over the counter)
L-Glutamine by Life Extension (Inspire Nutrition is a licensed distributor)