Understanding the Powerful Connection between Gut, Metabolic and Immune Health
by Dr. Laura Korman, DC, DACBN
Our immune systems have evolved to adapt to the ever-fluctuating environment in which we live, protecting us from foreign invaders that could harm us. This complex, highly organized immune system is unique to every person. It is built, molded and shaped by the specific influences of the world around us including our current global health crisis.
A healthy immune system starts with a healthy gut, and can be strengthened over time. Yet the most influential time for developing a healthy gut starts in the womb and in the first few months of life. A mother’s diet, lifestyle, exposure to toxins, infections, drugs, as well as the infant’s birth experience and whether breast feeding is provided, determine the unique variety and quantity of a baby’s gut microbiome (beneficial and protective bacteria).
Breastfed babies have fewer colds and less ear, respiratory or intestinal infections than formula fed babies. Perhaps even more remarkable, according to Dr. Joe Mercola, when a newborn has been exposed to a germ while breastfeeding, the baby will transfer those germs to mom. She will then produce antibodies to those germs and send the antibodies back to her child during the next feeding.
What an awesome symbiotic, immune boosting relationship that works both ways! Since the diversity of our microbiota is determined early in life, the sooner we can build and nourish this vital and protective bacteria, the stronger our immune resilience will be—not only in childhood, but throughout all of adulthood too.
Some dietary choices that negatively impact gut and immune health include the consumption of foods or beverages with sugars or processed grains and carbohydrates, all of which cause inflammation. Genetically modified foods (GMO's) including most corn and soybean products, as well as the artificial sweetener Sucralose, have been known to disrupt healthy gut bacteria also.
In addition, stress is intimately connected to gut health, and if not managed, can slow the production of digestive enzymes which are normally produced by the body when we eat food. If we are deficient in these enzymes, we are unable to break down food into small fragments needed before they can be absorbed. This will often make us feel bloated or even experience heart burn and acid re-flux symptoms. In an attempt to decrease these signs of indigestion, many people take medications like Tums, Nexium, Prilosec or Omeprazole. But these pharmaceuticals are not without their side-effects.
While medications could provide temporary relief of discomfort, they fail to address the root cause of why these symptoms occur. They decrease the necessary production of stomach acid, and they also block the absorption of essential nutrients like calcium, magnesium, iron and B12. Long-term use can cause deficiencies and other related health problems. Antibiotics are commonly over-prescribed in the United States, but can eliminate healthy gut bacteria, as well as the potentially dangerous bacteria they are intended to kill.
The other influence that affects our bodies’ ability to fight infection is the state of our metabolic health which is defined as having ideal levels of blood sugar, insulin, lipids, blood pressure and waist circumference, without the use of drugs. Poor metabolic health leads to chronic illness including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. These same chronic illnesses will increase our risk for complications or even death due to viral or bacterial infections.
The World Health Organization states that at least 80% of all chronic diseases are lifestyle induced. The positive news here is that chronic illness can also be managed or reversed through lifestyle choices. Below are a few simple, practical and accessible strategies to improve metabolic and immune health.
Avoid the intake of non-nutritive, sugar filled foods and beverages.
Eat real food—preferably organic, locally grown and raised—instead of processed, packaged and fast foods.
Drink pure water. Take your body weight in pounds, divide in half, and this will be the minimum number, in ounces, of water that you should drink daily.
Move your body including 20-30 minutes of aerobic activity, four to five times per week, and weight resistance training, two to three times per week.
Allow yourself around seven or eight hours of uninterrupted, quality sleep, aiming between 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.
Manage stress through prayer, yoga, meditation or deep breathing techniques.
Expose yourself to the sun—just be careful not to burn. 80% of people are deficient in Vitamin D, and sunshine is primarily how to absorb this vital nutrient which keeps your immune system in check.
Limit toxic EMF radiation. Cell phones, computer screens, microwaves, Wi-fi, Bluetooth and the new 5G all have powerful disruptive effects on the body, interfering with immune function. These technologies are useful—and sometimes necessary—but we need to limit their use, especially around children.
Consider high-quality supplementation. Non-toxic, bioavailable supplements are important because you want to avoid vitamins full of binders and artificial colors. Some preferences for supporting a healthy immune system are Vitamin D3 and K2, buffered Vitamin C, zinc, probiotics and a foundational daily multivitamin.
Our immune systems’ health is directly influenced by the state of the gut and metabolic health, and that is something we have control over through the modification of both diet and lifestyle. That ultimately puts us in the driver's seat of our own health destiny. In a time of fear and uncertainty, this information should be comforting and empowering. No matter where you find your current state of health, the time to be healthier is before you get sick—or sicker—and that is now more than ever!
Dr. Korman has a post-doctorate degree in nutrition, and is board-certified through the American Clinical Board of Nutrition. She has been in practice for over 30 years, and has a health and wellness clinic in Port Charlotte. For more information, call 941-629-6700 or visit DrLauraKorman.com.