Did you know that 80% of your immune system is in your gut? Due to its size, the gastrointestinal tract is one of the body's largest contact surfaces with the outside world, so it makes sense that a large part of the body's defense system is located here.
How is your gut flora and your immune system connected?
Your gut flora affects everything that happens in your body, directly or indirectly. This also applies to the immune system. As much as 70-80 percent of the immune system is actually in the gut! If you think of the immune system as a big orchestra, the gut is the conductor. How? Well, all the mucous membranes in the body are connected and communicate. What happens in the gut will affect the immune system in the upper airways, lungs, bladder, abdomen, actually in the whole body. How then does the intestinal flora enter the picture?
The intestinal flora stimulates and communicates with the immune system from birth and throughout life. The bacteria keep the immune system going so that it is alert and ready. The bacteria can also form substances that strengthen the intestinal mucosa and the rest of the body. When bacteria stimulate the immune system, the risk of allergic reactions also decreases. The intestinal flora can thus help the immune system both to react and defend the body against things that can be harmful, but also to not react to harmless things, such as food and pollen.
In fact, the bacteria in the intestinal flora are also in themselves one of the most important protections against harmful bacteria. A healthy and strong intestinal flora can prevent other, less welcome, bacteria from gaining a foothold. It's just like in a garden. One of the best ways to avoid weeds is to fill the flower bed with the plants you want, so there will be no space for weeds. Interestingly, if the intestinal flora is improved, the bacterial flora in, for example, the upper respiratory tract can also be improved. Everything really is connected.
Can I affect my intestinal flora?
Bacteria and other microorganisms are very much affected by the environment they are in and the availability of food. All bacteria have their favorite food. The more varied diet we eat, the more different bacterial species will thrive. And the more species-rich the intestinal flora becomes, the healthier it is.
Many good bacteria love fiber of various kinds. So if your plate includes lots of whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruits and berries, in time your intestinal flora will probably also be dominated by bacteria that like that food. But how much fiber you can handle is individual, so always listen to your own body and adjust your diet accordingly.
By eating a diet rich in good bacteria, we benefit our own good bacteria. Humans have traditionally eaten lactic acid bacteria via lactic acid foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kombucha. Unfortunately, most people get far too few good bacteria through their diet today.
Digestion can also affect the intestinal flora, by affecting how much food reaches the large intestine where the largest amount of bacteria is found. If your digestion isn’t working well, there could be too much food for the bacteria in the colon, which can be problematic. Stress can also affect your digestion. Taking a few deep breaths before a meal can calm the body, which benefits digestion.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are defined as "living microorganisms which, when given in sufficient quantities, provide health benefits to those who ingest them" (WHO 2002). Most probiotics are lactic acid bacteria, but not all. In order to be called probiotics, it must be shown in clinical studies that the specific bacterial strain has positive effects on health.