Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS, is a doctor of chiropractic, doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food and nutrition. He operates leading natural health website DrAxe.com and is co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, a health supplement company. He’s also author of the books Eat Dirt, Essential Oils: Ancient Medicine, Keto Diet, Collagen Diet and Ancient Remedies.
by Dr. Josh Axe
Given how much attention gut health has been given in recent years, along with the soaring popularity of supplements such as probiotics, you’re probably aware that a healthy, properly functioning gut is key to a healthy immune system.
How is the gut related to the immune system? The immune system–gut connection is a complex topic, one that researchers are constantly still learning about.
We know that billions of beneficial bacteria are present within all of us, forming what’s called our “microbiomes.” The microbiome is an internal ecosystem that benefits us in many ways, including by helping us to absorb nutrients, keeping us healthy overall, regulating our appetite and body weight, and much more.
This “community of microbes” living inside each and every one of us is mostly located inside our digestive systems (or guts).
Just how much of the immune system is located in the gut? It’s now believed that the gut houses between 70 percent and 80 percent of all immune cells.
How the Immune System and Gut Are Connected
Amazingly, it’s estimated that within the body there are slightly more microorganisms than there are human cells, mostly concentrated within the GI tract.
It’s now believed that overall gut health can contribute to overall health. This is why maintaining the integrity of the gut as well as overall gut health are crucial aspects of health.
The presence of bacteria, specifically the “good guys” kind called probiotics, plays a role between the gut microbiota and immune system.
What are probiotics? They are microorganisms introduced into the body for their beneficial qualities. They help to balance the ratio of “bad guy” bacteria and “good guy” bacteria.
How does gut bacteria support a healthy immune system exactly?
- Probiotic supplements and foods contain “good guy” bacteria that populate your gut and support its health.
- Certain gut bacteria can impact how your body extracts nutrients from your diet, including vital minerals and nutrients like zinc, iron and vitamin B12.
- Generally speaking, some microbes influence gene expression, either positively or negatively.
- And because there are pathways between the central nervous system and microbiome that send signals back and forth to one another, your gut flora can affect how you produce neurotransmitters, which impacts your energy, outlook and sleep.
How to Support Gut Health Naturally
To support a healthy gut and a healthy immune system, it’s important to eat a nourishing diet.
The foods you eat, the types and amounts of bacteria you’re exposed to on a daily basis, along with your stress levels, sleep, exercise and genetics all play a role in establishing your gut microbiome. Low nutrient availability and more can all take a toll on your gut and immune system health.
Below are dietary and lifestyle changes you can make to support a healthy immune system and gut connection:
1. Eat Probiotic Foods
Probiotic-rich, fermented foods include kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt and apple cider vinegar. As explained above, these probiotic foods provide the gut microbiota and immune system with beneficial bacteria to support a healthy gut and a healthy immune system. They can also boost the diversity of gut flora in your microbiome, which seems to offer some benefits.
Ideally try to consume one or more servings daily, such as by adding yogurt or kefir to smoothies, or some sauerkraut to a salad or sandwich.
2. Take a Daily Probiotic Supplement
While there are dozens of options now available, it’s important to consume probiotic strains that are “survivable” and actually make it to the gastrointestinal tract. You want probiotics that survive higher temperatures and stomach acid.
SBO Probiotics Ultimate Capsules is beneficial for several reasons:
- Soil-based probiotics are often hardier than other types of probiotics and resistant to harsh environments
- Provides 50 billion CFUs* (*at time of manufacture) and no refrigeration needed
- Contains strains known to support a healthy immune system and a healthy digestive system, including Bacillus subtilis and Bacillus coagulans
- Includes herbs and other ingredients long used in traditional herbal practices to support absorption and digestion
- Includes probiotics plus prebiotics and postbiotics to create a "trifecta approach" (prebiotics, probiotics, postbiotics) — prebiotics act as fertilizer for probiotics, while postbiotics are the metabolites (enzymes and organic acids) created by probiotics
- We also added a fermented organic botanical blend, plus select clinically studied strains to deliver support for healthy elimination, reduction of occasional bloating, gas, diarrhea, healthy inflammation response, oral health and more
3. Eat High Antioxidant Foods
Antioxidants such as vitamins C, E and A are important for helping the body remain healthy. Some of the best sources include kiwi, kale, spinach, blueberries, strawberries, oranges, beets, acai, turmeric and cocoa.
Antioxidant-rich foods that support your gut and therefore should be the base of your diet include:
- Fresh vegetables (all kinds), such as carrots, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale); dark, leafy greens, etc.
- Fruit (not juice), especially berries, cherries, nectarines, oranges, pears, plums, pomegranates, grapefruit, etc.
- Herbs, spices and teas, including turmeric, ginger, basil, oregano, thyme, etc., plus
- Green tea and organic coffee in moderation.
Greens are awesome, too. Want an easy way to boost your greens intake, even if you’re short on time? Try a dried greens supplement powder, such as Ancient Nutrition’s Organic SuperGreens Powder, which can be stirred right into water or a smoothie for a quick nutrient-boost.
4. Consume More Dietary Fiber and Collagen
Fiber, especially the type called prebiotics, essentially helps to “feed” “good guy” gut bacteria. Along with the foods mentioned above, include high-fiber foods in your diet to support your gut flora.
Great sources of fiber include: vegetables, fruits, coconut, avocado, legumes/beans and ancient grains (best when sprouted and 100 percent unrefined/whole). Try a variety of types such as chickpeas, lentils, black rice, amaranth, oat bran, adzuki beans, black beans, quinoa and buckwheat.
Collagen, the most abundant protein in the human body that helps form connective tissues, also impacts gut health. In addition to consuming collagen-boosting foods such as bone broth, you can increase your collagen intake by using Multi Collagen Protein Powder.
This product, which is unflavored and easy to use daily, is for anyone who is looking to naturally support their body in these areas of health: gut, skin, joints, hair and nails.
5. Steer Clear of These “Gut-Unfriendly” Foods
Foods that may not be as gut-friendly include:
- Refined vegetable oils (like canola, corn and soybean oils, which are high in omega-6 fatty acids)
- Added sugars (found in the majority of packaged snacks, breads, condiments, canned items, cereals, etc.)
- Trans fats/hydrogenated fats (used in packaged/processed products and often to fry foods)
- Refined carbohydrates and processed grain products
- Pasteurized and sweetened dairy products (common allergens for some people)
- Conventional meat, poultry and eggs (high in omega-6s due to feeding the animals a poor diet)
6. Manage Stress
Gut health support is important all the time, including during stressful times. Gut health can influence stress management while stress management can also impact gut health.
What can you do to get a handle on stress? Try to exercise regularly, which is a natural stress reliever and immune system health booster, along with prioritizing sleep and relaxing activities such as meditation, prayer, reading, yoga, journaling, etc.
Certain adaptogenic herbs, such as Ancient Nutrition’s Organic Ashwagandha Tablets, can also support a healthy response to stress, cortisol/DHEA balance, healthy energy levels, focus, a positive outlook and restful sleep.
Related: Top Stress Relief Supplements
- How does gut health affect immune system health? Microbiota are the trillions of bacterial organisms that live inside our bodies. Our gut is a central location of the microbiome, where a large majority of bacteria and other microorganisms live.
- Gut health is tied to overall health. Period.
- Probiotics (“good guy” gut bacteria) help support a healthy gut and a healthy immune system. They allow us to absorb nutrients and more.
- To help support your immune system-gut-connection, you should focus on these steps: eating plenty of high-antioxidant, gut-friendly and high-fiber foods; consuming probiotic foods and supplements; avoiding certain “gut unfriendly” foods; and managing stress.