Your human body has many more bacterial cells than human cells. There are trillions of bacteria on your skin, in your body openings, and in your GI tract. These bacteria can play an important role in your health. One key function of the gut bacterial cells is to make sure your immune system is in optimal shape.
Balancing reaction and tolerance.
Your body is constantly exposed to foreign materials from the time you’re born. One of the jobs of your gut bacteria is to help your immune system determine what’s harmful and what’s not.
There’s a constant balance inside you between reacting and tolerating. The gut bacteria help your immune system know the difference between the two.
If your body tolerates harmful microbes, you may suffer irreversible health consequences. Infections can then overwhelm your immune system and you might not survive. Your immune system must know what is harmful and react swiftly to protect you.
On the other hand, allergies are the result of your body overreacting to harmless things.
Food or pollens are not harmful to your body. But if at some point, your immune system misreads them as harmful, your body thinks they are. The cavalry is then summoned to defend you against this harmless intruder. The result of this overactive immune response could be hay fever symptoms or hives. It could even result in life-threatening anaphylaxis.
Balancing the different bacterial strains.
It’s also important to balance the different strains of bacteria in your gut microbiome. Obviously, you want the good bacterial strains to outnumber the harmful ones. Too many opportunistic pathogens will upset the balance in the gut. This leads to an increased inflammatory state, i.e. an overreactive immune system. This could lead to even more disease conditions within the body.
How to keep the balance through diet.
To keep the bacteria in balance, maintain a diet high in nutrients that benefits you and your bacteria. They need good nutrition, too! If the good guys die off, the less desirable bacteria can quickly fill the gap and tip the balance.
Eat a healthy diet that includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables in the colors of the rainbow. Get plenty of fiber in your diet to fuel the good bacteria. Eat fermented foods to keep high numbers of helpful bacteria in your GI tract.
Try eating fermented foods regularly to keep the good bacteria levels plentiful. Foods like yogurt are available almost everywhere. Most people can find a flavor they enjoy. Avoid yogurt with a lot of added sugar, though.
Try these other fermented foods to add some more variety in your diet:
- Miso, a fermented soybean paste. Often used in soups and salad dressings
- Sauerkraut, fermented cabbage often found atop a hot dog!
- Kefir is a fermented yogurt-like drink usually made from dairy.
- Kimchi, fermented pickled cabbage, is often eaten as a side dish. You can do as the Koreans do and eat it in or with almost everything!
- Kombucha is a sweetened tea, fermented after the sweetening process.
- Tempeh is a fermented soy product that mimics meat in dishes.
- Sourdough bread—who doesn’t know about this healthful and delicious bread?
It’s especially important to be aware of your gut bacteria if you need to take an antibiotic. Antibiotics don’t discriminate against good and bad bacteria. The use of antibiotics can tip the balance in your gut.
When taking antibiotics, also take a probiotic supplement. You can also increase the yogurt and fermented foods in your diet. This will replenish the number of good bacteria in your gut and maintain balance.
Other ways the gut bacteria help the immune system.
There are other ways your gut bacteria help your immune system. Some species of gut bacteria produce antibodies to help your immune system. These antibodies tag anything abnormal or foreign for removal. That includes tumor cells and microbes.
Other bacteria produce specific substances that protect against other pathogenic bacteria. Presumably, this originates as a defense mechanism to protect the bacteria’s own territory there inside your gut. Human hosts also benefit from this defense mechanism, too.
The bottom line is this; be aware of the importance of your GI tract as a gateway to a healthy immune system. Be mindful of diet choices for an optimized immune system. And if you must take antibiotics, be aware of maintaining the balance for optimal gut health.
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