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How Bacteria Dance With Your Immune System

If you’re anything like me, you are interested in seeking your optimal health through nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. With that in mind, I’m SOOOO excited to bring you a guest post from the fabulous Dr. Jillian Teta of Fix Your Digestion. She goes into detail about how exactly our gut health impacts our immune health in an interesting and thorough way. Take it away, Dr. Jillian…


immune health

Dr. Jillian Teta

By: Jillian Teta ND

Keoni, my husband, is a wonderful dancer. He loves to salsa. If you watch two people who know what they are doing dancing together, you will notice a harmony there. Palms together, there is a perfect tension of push and pull that works seemingly effortlessly as the dancers twirl around the floor. Sometimes, one is moving forward and the other backward, sometimes one dips while one swoops. Taken as a whole, the dance is beautiful. It works, it is functional.

Then, imagine someone in there who does not know how to dance. In this case, me, as I hopelessly stomp on toes, trip over my own feet, and grin sheepishly at my patient partner. Though I may enjoy singing off key in the car or shower, a dancer I am not. So, the dance looks off. It loses its function with my imbalance. No longer cohesive, the dance falls apart. It doesn’t work the way it should.

What on Earth does this have to do with immune health and your gut? Great question.

In your digestive tract, there resides an enormous colony of beneficial bacteria. When I say enormous, I mean it. They pack a population of about a hundred trillion strong. To give you some context, know that YOUR human cells are numbered at about ten trillion. These guys outnumber you ten to one and they live in your gut and only weigh about 4 lbs, total. Think on that one for a while. 😉

Although they perform innumerable functions for us – many of which we are just beginning to understand and many more we have not yet discovered – one of their prime, most important gigs is communicating with and helping our immune system keep us safe and healthy.

Did you know that two thirds – a huge majority – of the immune system lives in the digestive tract? Isn’t that a convenient place to commiserate with our gut bacteria! It makes great biological and evolutionary sense, however, as we consider that the bulk of pathogens and harmful substances we are exposed to come in through the digestive system.

Your gut bacteria dance with your immune system very much like two people, touching and pressing into each other, moving to a rhythm. When the body gets the right inputs in the form of food, water, sleep, exercise and un-stressful activity, the dance is beautiful and harmonious, and the immune system and gut bacteria function wonderfully and we don’t get sick.immune health

But say we are stressed out. We’re not dealing with the stress well and maybe we are overeating sugar. A dancer misses a step, stumbles, the balance is lost, and BAM! We catch a cold. The nasty bug that was going around finally hits its target.

Or, in another way, if another imbalance occurs, or there are multiple imbalances that remain long enough, we develop food sensitivities, environmental allergies, asthma, eczema or even an autoimmune condition.

It all boils down to the fine tension in that dance.

To keep our immune system functional and health harmonious, we need to keep the gut bacteria happy. That, at least, is a major part of it. Luckily, there is a lot that you can do to keep your good guys dancing. These simple tips are for you to utilize this winter and beyond to increase the health of your colony of beneficial bacteria, your digestive system, immune function and overall health.

  1. Don’t eat foods that don’t work for you: Some foods help, others can hurt. One man’s medicine is another’s poison. There are few hard-and-fast rules when it comes to your own unique sensitivities, but there are some guidelines we can follow. White sugar is suppressive to the immune system (and often something we reach for when stressed, oops!) but there are other groups of food that are classically problematic that you could have a look at: gluten, dairy, soy, nightshade veggies, beans and legumes. This by no means is an exhaustive list, but a reflection of common sensitivities that I see in my clinic. Ensuring your body gets the right inputs help the immune system execute the dance better. Emphasize proteins, veggies, healthy fats and plenty of clean water. Excessive caffeine and alcohol can be a problem, as can excessive orange juice. Yup! You heard it right. Orange juice has vitamin C, sure, but has loads of sugar and is mucogenic: mucous-producing. It’s way better to get your vitamin C from eating veggies and fruits than by guzzling down a bunch of OJ, I promise.
  2. Load up on antioxidants: Antioxidants help give the immune system ammunition to take care of the bad guys, and then clean up the mess afterwards. The gut bacteria take antioxidants that we consume from plants, animals or supplements and humanize them, essentially tuning them so they can be used for our purposes. Eating a wide variety of brightly colored vegetables and fruits will help you get antioxidants, but sometimes taking a supplemental antioxidant is a good idea too. Look for a blend like ACES + Zn.
  3. Wash your hands with soap and water, get rid of the antibacterial squirt sanitizers: If I had a wish, it would be to remove all of those pump dispenser hand sanitizers full of triclosan and alcohol. They do NOT work better than plain soap and water, and contribute to drug resistant bacteria (the bad guys), superbugs and food and environmental allergens. Wash those hands.
  4. Incorporate fermented foods: Foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha are loaded with healthy bacteria to assist your good bacteria and immune system both. If you can tolerate dairy products, yogurt and kefir are also considerations.
  5. Consider taking a probiotic during the cold and flu season: There are several good ones on the market. Look for a probiotic that is *just* probiotics – no prebiotics or enzymes or other additives. Preferably it will be dairy and soy free. Aim for 20-50 billion CFUs per day. Probiotics are supplements to the beneficial bacteria and also help the immune system as well.
  6. If you get sick, rest: If you do end up sick, even if it is just a simple sniffle, take the time to give your body rest. Rest is a powerful immune booster. Often, people do not heal fully or well, or recovery takes much longer than usual simply because they don’t take the downtime required. The amount you need to take varies, from one to several days for a cold, to one to two weeks for the flu. Listen to your body.
(Note from Jill:  If you are interested in digestive health, this FREE online event is for you! Sign up here to reserve your virtual seat at “The Digestion Sessions.”  The FREE educational series will take place in November with a ROCK STAR line up of digestive health experts including Dr. Jillian! Topics will deal with with GERD, bloating, healing your gut, food sensitivities, show cooking demos, and more. Be sure to share this with friends and family that suffer with digestive health issues. They will thank you! ♥ )
Dr. Jillian’s bio:

Dr. Jillian Sarno Teta, ND is the co-author of Natural Solutions for Digestive Health.

Jillian blogs at Fix Your Digestion and is the creator of the Fix Your Digestion coaching group. For more information on Jillian’s programs, contact clinic@metaboliceffect.com.

If you love social media as much as Jillian does, she would love to connect with you. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

Jillian received her doctorate in naturopathic medicine from Bastyr University. Prior to that, she received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Boston University in Biology and Energy and Environmental Analysis, respectively.

She practices at the Naturopathic Health Clinic of North Carolina in Winston-Salem and writes for several publications, including Natural Triad, Forsyth Woman, Pain Pathways, OnFitness, Dr.Oz Online, the Gluten Intolerance Group National Letter, and others. She is a local and national speaker. Jillian is currently the President of the North Carolina Association of Naturopathic Physicians (NCANP).

Affiliate Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Your pricing does not go up, but if you purchase through my link I get a bit for referring you. Thanks for supporting my blog!

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