Your body is built to protect you. But what happens when your immune system, often referred to as “the second brain,” turns on you and attacks your healthy cells? Common bacteria– or “leaky gut” –may be in part to blame in autoimmune diseases.
An autoimmune disease happens when your immune system attacks your body instead of attacking harmful microorganisms invading it. Typically when a virus invades a body, it will produce antibodies to combat the virus. However, those suffering with an autoimmune condition will create antibodies that attack the cells it’s supposed to protect. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services reports that more than 23.5 million Americans live with an autoimmune disease, with women being at a higher risk than men.
Dysbiosis— or an imbalance between good and bad bacteria in your gut—has been associated with numerous autoimmune diseases including:
- and Multiple Sclerosis
So what does this have to do with your gut?
Your gut microbiome is closely related to your immune system. Not only are 75% of our neurotransmitters made within the gut, but our gut microbiome is involved in multiple layers of our health, including our mood and metabolism.
While you may not be able to control genetic factors that influence gut health and autoimmunity, you can control the way that your lifestyle contributes to it. Stress, anxiety, nutrition, excessive alcohol consumption, and lack of sleep are all variables that can affect the composition of inflammatory gut bacteria. Considering 80% of our immune system is within our gut lining, any imbalance in the microbiome can contribute to autoimmune conditions. This is why maintaining a balanced microbiome that has diverse disease-fighting bacteria is key in sustaining overall health.
Then what’s a “leaky gut” have to do with it?
The organs in your gut consist of some of the body’s largest organs. In our bellies, we have an extensive lining that forms a barrier that controls what gets absorbed in the bloodstream– when working properly. However, this lining isn’t completely impenetrable, and isn’t supposed to be. But an unhealthy gut lining may have large holes that let toxins, half-digested foods, and other contaminants penetrate the tissues underneath it. This triggers inflammation and can have negative effects on the healthy gut bacteria.
How can I help my gut from inflammation and autoimmunity risks?
Your gut microbiome is a complex system, but taking care of it doesn’t have to be. Improving your digestive health through diet, exercise, and small lifestyle changes go a long way.
First, reduce your intake of high-inflammatory foods.
Eating unprocessed, nutritious foods that quell inflammation may help to bring more balance to your gut flora. These include:
- Artificial and processed foods
- Nightshade vegetables (russet potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant)
Second, introduce foods into your diet that are good for your gut. These include:
- Foods high in fiber – some examples: fruits (e.g. raspberries, bananas, and apples), vegetables (e.g. artichokes and broccoli), legumes (e.g. beans, lentils, and peas), whole grains
- Fermented foods – some examples: yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut (these are considered probiotic-rich foods as well)
- Prebiotic foods – some examples: chicory root, dandelion greens, garlic, onions, asparagus, barley, oats, cocoa, flaxseeds
- Whole grains
- Foods rich in polyphenols – some examples: dark chocolate, red wine, green tea, almonds, blueberries
Third, incorporate positive lifestyle changes. These can include:
- Moderate exercise
- Increasing nightly hours of sleep
- Decreasing stress levels
- Supplements (probiotics, prebiotics, turmeric, vitamin D, etc)
At In2GREAT, when developing a plan, we first take the time necessary to get the complete picture of one’s health– with a major component being gut health. Our ability to prevent, treat, and recover from an illness, especially an autoimmune condition, relies heavily on our digestive system. If you are suffering from an autoimmune condition, or have chronic digestive issues, schedule a consultation with our team. From functional medicine to functional nutrition, supplements to health & wellness programs, our integrative services can help put you on the path to greater health.
Americans live with an autoimmune disease