The Gut - Your Great DefenderShare
Many people suffer from serious immune dysfunction in the modern world. Immunity is a complicated function that is critical to our health and wellness as it is the means by which our body defends itself. It detects pathogens, viruses, anything perceived as a "threat" and swoops in to save the day. Many may not realize but the gut is one of the most important organ systems for healthy immune function.
Immunity builds up over time and is influenced by how we treat our bodies, what we eat, sleep regularity, stress levels, etc. Adaptive immunity is "smart" immunity, meaning it has the ability to remember pathogens so that it can destroy them more quickly should they invade again in the future. Humoral immunity and Cell-mediated immunity involve the activation natural killer cells that ingest pathogens - consuming and destroying anything perceived as a threat to your body (Yuan, et al., 2004).
At birth, the gut tract is completely sterile. Both the mother and environmental exposure transfer microorganisms to the infant very quickly (Yuan, et al., 2004). If this transfer is compromised, for example, if an infant is not breast fed, the flora in the infant's gut will never fully develop (Fuller, et al., 1998). Breast milk builds infant immunity, offering the best protection against infection. An important factor in breast milk is the promotion of mucus, which promotes gut flora and activates anti-inflammatory functions (Hanson, et al., 2003).
Breastfeeding stimulates infant immunity by transferring lymphocytes and cytokines from the mother to the infant. These aid the immune system in proper functioning. Breastfed children are better protected against viral infections for years after they are breastfed. A healthy gut equals a healthy immune system and vice versa.
Immune development is also dependent on antibiotic use in infants. Antibiotics predispose infants to allergies, asthma, eczema and several other autoimmune and inflammatory diseases (Ally, 2011). Antibiotics have been found in GMO foods and animals for decades (Finamore, 2008). Drinking commercially produced milk or eating conventional meat means you are consuming antibiotics - potentially on a daily basis. Because factory farmed animals are injected with growth hormone to speed up the maturation cycle, they often become very sick because of weakened immune systems. As a result they are fed a continual supply of antibiotics until they are slaughtered (Christansen, 1991).
Antibiotics, although designed to help the body, actually do a lot of harm. While they are made to destroy bacteria, they are not able to differentiate between "good" and "bad" bacteria and so they wipe everything out. Good bacteria are important in digestion and overall health. It is the good bacteria in the gut that enables the innate immune response to happen so quickly—an army of gut bacteria overwhelms potential invaders. When antibiotics destroy good bacteria, they leave the immune system weakened and susceptible. If taking antibiotics is unavoidable, it is critical to replenish good gut bacteria as quickly as possible. Failure to do so is one of the leading reasons people who are regularly prescribed antibiotics often have to continue to take them in order to fight off infection. Their own immunity is unable to defend against attack (Ghaffar, et al., 2002).
Although immunity is innate, it can also be built and cultivated. Maintaining a healthy diet free from toxins that cause damage to good gut bacteria is important in setting the foundation for proper and effective immune response. Additionally, it is important to replenish good bacteria so that the gut is prepared for those crucial times when immune response and defense is needed most.