It has been acknowledged for some time that 70-80% of the immune system is in the gut.
One class of tissues that the immune system has is called sampling tissues. One of the jobs of these tissues is to understand what the body is being exposed to, both chronically and acutely, and to learn whether or not it should be attacking those things..
Why is the sampling tissue in the gut? The gut is the largest site where foreign material enters the body. Some stuff comes in through the eyes, the nose, the genital tract, some through our skin where the skin is broken, but mostly it comes from what we put into our mouths, not just nutrients but also toxic elements from the environment.
Anything that enters through the respiratory route will also end up in the gut to some degree, because one of the things that happen is when viruses or other material are in the upper respiratory tract, they get trapped by mucus. One of the important jobs of mucus in your respiratory system is trapping things so that your immune system has a chance to assess and identify them. The cilia, the fine, hair-like structures that help sweep away fluids & particles in your lungs and airways, move the mucus up and then your sinus system drain the mucus down and all of that ultimately gets swallowed.
Everything from your nose, and your ears, and your lungs, all of that stuff eventually comes into your throat and you end up swallowing it. The swallowing part is really important because that’s where whatever’s being trapped in your respiratory tract and in the upper airways gets presented to the immune tissue in your gut.
Now viruses in general, and COVID-19 in particular, enter through the gut and causes a gut-based infection as well. In fact, at least 53% of the cases in one of the latest publications (April 2020) in the American Journal of Gastroenterology shows that they first present with gastro symptoms rather than anything else - nausea, diarrhoea, cramping and pain to the gut.
It may be that if there is a good response in the gut, that may help with our overall defence against Covid-19. Disclaimer: there are no validated studies on Covid-19 in particular, but there have been studies done on other influenza viruses.
The immune system uses short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) for energy, especially butyrate. We typically get small amounts of butyrate from fibre in our diet, so remembering to have a diet rich in fruits & vegetables over processed food it a good guideline.
Beta-glucans and Quercetin help the immune system switch from the highly inflammatory response to the more specialised targeted response, making antibodies against the virus.
Beta-glucans are found in certain mushrooms, oats, yeast and seaweed. A medicinal mushroom supplement may be helpful.
Quercetin is found in onions, grapes, berries, apples, broccoli & citrus fruit.
Probiotics also play a big role in modulating the microbiome in the gut, which in turn helps modulate the body’s immune response. There has been much research undertaken on probiotics, and different strains are indicated and recommended for different applications, for instance, one for irritable bowel, one for allergies etc. Spore-based probiotics are particularly indicated for the immune system and show dramatic improvements for conditions like intestinal permeability (“leaky gut”).
Another user-friendly aspect of spore-based probiotics is that they do not need to be refrigerated. Cow serum is taken and spun out and purified to extract the antibodies. When we add them back into our system, they go to work in our digestive tract, neutralizing viruses, bacteria, toxins, compounds, mould toxins, bacterial toxins and so on, thereby lending an important helping hand to our immune system.
Probiotics are present in some of the food we eat, but for therapeutic effects we need to take them as supplements.
Your health practitioner will be able to guide you as to the best one for your needs.
As a summary, as well as being aware of hygiene and upper respiratory care practices, it is also relevant to acknowledge the role our gut health may play in protecting us from Covid-19 and other seasonal viruses.
With Covid-19 prominent in our awareness this year and public messages about those with compromised immunity being more at risk, more of us are thinking about whether we fall into that category. If you know you have an auto-immune condition, you may be more likely to think that this may apply to you. But what if you don’t have an auto-immune condition? It may be that those little niggles (low energy, itchy skin, sore muscles, poor sleep, moodiness, sniffiness or coughs, occasional random bouts of diarrhoea or constipation) could be signposts to impaired immune function.
Learn how to boost your immune system! Don’t wait till winter illnesses strike, be proactive and get your immune system protection in place now!
Book a session with Marion Stobie and she will help you identify and address your own particular weaknesses before winter hits!
Senior Naturopath & Medical Herbalist
Marion practices the art and science of medical herbalism within the framework of naturopathic evidence-based practice.