Maintaining a Healthy Digestive System
Approximately 70% of your immune system lives in our intestinal track
Everything we eat and drink moves through our gut and affects our digestive system. Our gastrointestinal (GI) tract inside our gut is a complex ecosystem of bacteria and microorganisms that protects our bodies from infection, regulates our metabolism and supports a healthy mucosal immune system (the protective barrier within the intestinal tract that acts as the first line of defense against microbial and dietary antigens). This makes our digestive system an important area to focus on when looking for ways to support the immune system.
To maintain a healthy digestive system
1. Eat fiber-rich plant-based foods: fruit, whole grains, nuts, vegetables.
Fiber helps regulate our digestive tract, allowing waste to move more easily out of your system. It also nourishes the “good” bacteria that wards off infections and fungi.
Don’t forget to choose prebiotic-rich foods that are high in the fibers and natural sugars that stimulate the growth of the “good” gut bacteria: almonds, chickpeas, lentils, beans, leeks, onions, asparagus, garlic, spinach, bananas, oats, soybeans.
2. Consider trying probiotic fermented foods: sauerkraut, miso, tempeh.
Probiotics are live bacteria or yeasts that, when consumed, take up residence in the gut. They have shown to provide immune boosting support while inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria. However, a little goes a long way. Be careful not to overdue probiotics as too much can upset the balance of “good” bacteria and actually interfere with your immune response.
3. Drink plenty of fluids: water, plant-based milks, herbal teas.
Fluids, especially water, help break down food so your body can absorb the nutrients more easily, as well as flush out toxins.
Not all fluids are created equally. Avoid sugary drinks as the sugar feeds “bad” bacteria.
4. Find your calm: walk, meditate, listen to music, read, garden.
When you experience stress, blood and energy that normally supports your digestive system are re-directed to other areas of your body. By finding ways to calm and reclaim a healthy emotional balance, your digestive system is able to function more efficiently.
5. Move your body: walk, run, swim, dance, jump, bike ride.
Physical activity is an important element to overall health. Researchers are now discovering that regular exercise also plays a role in increasing diversity in the gut’s microbiome that creates a healthy GI tract.
Foods to avoid
Animal products reduce the growth of healthy bacteria and encourage the growth of “bad” bacteria linked to chronic disease. The protein in milk, called casein, promotes cancer cell growth per Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s work published in The China Study.
High-fat meals not only leave you feeling bloated and sluggish, but also reduce the amount of “good” bacteria while increasing the “bad” bacteria in your gut.
Processed food and added sugar.
Processed food and added sugar feeds the “bad” bacteria in your gut.
- The Gut: Where Bacteria and Immune System Meet, by Helen Fields, Johns Hopkins Medicine (2015)
- Top Fiber-Rich Foods for Good Gut Bacteria, by Laurie Herr, EatingWell (2018)
- What prebiotic foods should people eat?, by Bethany Cadman, Medical News Today (2018)
- Exercise Changes Our Gut Microbes, But How Isn’t Yet Clear, by Ashley Yeager, The Scientist (2019)
- The role of gut microbiota in immune homeostasis and autoimmunity, The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) (2012)
- How the gut immune system nourishes and protects, by Dr. Maria Cohut, Medical News Today (2019)
- Brain-gut connection explains why integrative treatments can help relieve digestive ailments by Dr. Michelle Dossett, Harvard Health Publishing (2019)
- What are the worst foods for gut health?, by Zawn Villines, Medical News Today (2019)