In a 2016 digestive health survey commissioned by Cipla, 32 % of participants reported being aware that three-quarters of the human immune system is located in the gut.
Professor Leon Dicks, head of the probiotic and antimicrobial peptide lab in the Department of Microbiology at the Stellenbosch University and developer of entiro™ probiotic, commented that these findings indicate that additional education on the topic is required. “In order to ensure that consumers are taking the correct supplements to support their immune system, it is important to foster a greater understanding of the role of the intestine in maintaining a healthy immune system.”
He explains that under normal circumstances, healthy human bodies are maintained at a temperature of 37 °C with high humidity, which makes our bodies a conducive environment for many harmful bacteria to thrive. “To protect us from these and other pathogens, the body has an array of processes and defence mechanisms, known collectively as the immune system, three-quarters of which is located in the gut.”
Professor Dicks adds that the microflora, or bacteria, in the human gut plays an important role in regulating the immune system and keeping us healthy. “Unfortunately, nothing that we commonly eat or drink is completely free from bacteria. This means that we are regularly introducing pathogens from our environment into our body by means of the intestine. Luckily for us, the human gut has defences between it and the bloodstream, protecting us against many harmful bacteria we ingest through the food we eat.”
Our intestinal microflora contributes to the breaking down of the food we eat, but it also acts as the gatekeeper, guarding the path to the blood stream, explains Professor Dicks. “When the microflora detects that something harmful has entered the intestine, it sends a warning signal to the immune system prompting it to react. The microflora also competes with harmful bacteria for food and space and it is constantly producing a variety of antimicrobial substances that aid in the fight against pathogens and bacteria.”
He warns that conditions like allergies and inflammatory disorders mostly occur when the body makes an error in controlling an immune response, resulting in the immune system producing antibodies against it. “The use of probiotics can protect the body against flu’s and gastrointestinal infections, therefore, eating a gut friendly, probiotic-rich diet is highly recommended.”
He adds that natural probiotics found in yoghurt and fermented, plant-based foods, like sauerkraut and miso, all contain healthy micro-organisms that actively drive unhealthy bacteria out of your intestine, but that these micro-organisms are not necessarily enough to combat pathogens. “It is therefore important to take a high quality probiotic supplement that protects both the small and large intestine.”
“A challenged immune system can be the result of a variety of lifestyle choices, such as stress, getting less sleep than you need, and alcohol consumption, which puts you at greater risk of contracting infection or illness. Maintaining a diet that is conducive to gut health will not only increase the immune system’s overall capacity to fight off infections, but may also reduce the toll that stress and other lifestyle factors take on your immune system. Take care of your gut, and it will take care of you,” concludes Professor Dicks.