In these previous blogs, our Toronto Naturopath Dr. Julia Segal, ND shared ways to prepare our children and ourselves for a healthy school year. Since immunity is what’s on everybody’s minds right now, parents or not, this blog focuses on the foundations of a good immune system: good gut health.
So, what does the gut have to do with the immune system? Actually, everything: about 70% or more of the body’s immune control centres, lymph nodes and patches known as Gut Associated Lymphatic Tissue or GALT, are located within the intestines. And, while we think of our gut as something deep inside of us, it’s actually just another boundary that our body maintains with the outside world, since what’s moving throughout our intestines is NOT us – it’s the food we put in, and the microbes that feed on it. So it’s no wonder that when it comes to immunity, there’s a lot going on at a gut level.
There are more bacterial cells in our intestines than there are human cells in our entire body. We’re literally outnumbered. What’s more, we depend on the bacteria in our gut in many ways. They produce substances our body uses as vitamins (like K2), as well as substances our intestinal lining needs to function and heal (like butyrate). Some of them help us digest our food. And many of them directly interact with our GALT, docking in at these lymph patches and guiding the immune system control centres to activate, focus on different types of immunity, and function appropriately. This may be why populations that eat fermented foods are showing to have better outcomes during this pandemic. And it is likely also why probiotics are so helpful in supporting the immune system during cold and flu season.
This brings us full circle to our nutrition being the single biggest determinant of our health that is within our control. The populations of bacteria that live in us and quite literally direct our immune systems, are in turn shaped by the food we eat. Luckily, the best foods for our microbes are fairly clichéd and simple: whole, home cooked vegetables, root vegetables such as squash, sweet potato, carrot and beets; dark leafy greens, lactofermented vegetables, and for most people, whole grains (not the kind that say so on the box – the kind of grain you can pick up with a spoon).
Eating home cooked whole plant foods feeds up the bacteria that keep our immune systems in check. That means a balanced and effective immune response to any infections we do experience is much more likely.