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Gut Health: Influencing Factors and How This Affects Immunity

05.03.24

  4 minute read

Gut health is a hot topic, drawing considerable interest from individuals seeking to improve their well-being. Many are opting for gluten-free diets or incorporating kombucha into their routines to promote their gut health. However, scientists are now delving deeper into understanding the intricate factors influencing gut health and their potential impacts on overall bodily functions.  


We spoke with James Morehen to give us some more insight into gut health and how we can optimise it. James is a leading performance nutritionist working with England Rugby and Bristol Black Bears, he is SENr registered and works with many elite athletes and individuals at Morehen Performance Ltd. 


We’ve looked into all the factors that might be affecting your gut health, and the knock-on effects this has on your immunity. 


How Gut Health Affects Immunity


Gut health plays a vital role in regulating our immunity. There is now significant research showing the importance gut health has on our entire bodies, especially the connection between gut health and our mental health. 


The gut is home to a complex ecosystem of microbes, known as gut microbiota; they interact closely with the immune system and affect our immunity in several ways. 


Immune System Regulation


The gut microbiota interacts with the cells of the immune system. It helps regulate immune responses and inflammation. A balanced gut microbiota is essential for the proper functioning of immune cells, ensuring they respond appropriately to threats while avoiding overreactions that can lead to inflammation or autoimmune conditions.


Production of Short-Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs)


Beneficial gut bacteria ferment dietary fibres to produce SCFAs. These compounds play a role in maintaining a healthy gut lining, modulating immune responses, and reducing inflammation.


Antimicrobial Defence


Beneficial bacteria in the gut compete with harmful pathogens for resources, limiting the growth of harmful microbes. This competition helps in preventing infections and maintaining a healthy microbial balance in the gut.


Vitamin Production 


Some gut bacteria aid in the production of vitamins like vitamin K and certain B vitamins, which are essential for the proper functioning of the immune system.


Gut Health - Grain


Factors Affecting Gut Health 


There is no one-size-fits-all answer to gut health, it affects everyone in different ways and everyone has different symptoms and triggers associated with it. Working out what affects your gut health positively, or negatively, is important to allow yourself to make lifestyle changes to improve your overall wellbeing. 


Factors affecting our gut health are totally personal to you, but here are some common ones; 


Diet 


Diet is a crucial element in maintaining a healthy gut. It’s important to maintain a diet rich in fibre, fruits and vegetables, and probiotic-containing foods such as kefir or yoghurt. Trying to eat the rainbow a day, in terms of the coloured foods, is the simplest and easiest way to remember to diversify your diet. 


Stress 


The brain and our gut are very closely linked, with the two having large impacts on the other. 


Too much stress can cause huge problems for your gut, ensure that you’re taking measures to reduce stress in your life to help maintain gut health. 


Stress can come from all elements of our lives. Exercising regularly helps to reduce stress and depression - even if this is only a 30-minute walk. Getting enough sleep also has a huge impact on our stress levels, impacting our day-to-day lives and restoring circadian rhythms. 


Medication 


Antibiotics are a well-known source of disruption to our gut health, they work by eliminating both harmful and beneficial microbes. Avoiding unnecessary use of these, and only using them when prescribed by a doctor is a must. 


If you’re concerned about the impact of antibiotics, ask your GP about following them with a course of prebiotics. Medical advice must always be followed. 


Hydration 


Hydration is essential for a healthy gut. Not only is it vital in the movement of food through the digestive tract, but proper hydration is essential for optimum nutrient absorption. Water is the medium by which nutrients are transferred from our food to our bloodstream. Maintaining hydration means your body can efficiently absorb vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients. 


How The Gut Affects You 


When the balance of gut bacteria is disrupted (a condition known as dysbiosis), it can negatively impact immune function and overall health. This can impair immune function and increase susceptibility to infections and inflammatory conditions. When left untreated, this can lead to a wide range of issues from anxiety to diabetes. 


The gut doesn’t only have an impact on our physical health. It has been known as the ‘second brain’ due to the large amount of neurotransmitters that line the gut. This means the brain and the central nervous system keep in close contact with the gut, and may result in changes in our moods and emotions when the balance of gut microbiota changes. 


Conclusion 


The intricate relationship between gut health and immunity underscores the importance of maintaining a balanced gut microbiota. Through factors such as stress, hydration and diet individuals can take proactive steps to improve their lifestyle choices and optimise their gut health as a result. 


As the understanding of the gut-brain axis grows, we also recognise the significant impact gut health has on our mental well-being. By prioritising gut health, we not only support our body’s ability to fight off infections and inflammation but also nurture our overall physical and mental health. 

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