Gut Health and the Immune System: Healthy Living Starts in the Gut

A gut feeling. Spilling our guts. Hating someone else’s guts.

For all our talk of gut stuff, it's kind of incredible that only recently has modern science started to pay attention to the massive role it plays in our health and immunity. It’s as though we always knew (on a gut level) that the gut was important, and now, finally, our brain is figuring out why.

The Japanese have long referred to the gut as the second brain, and new research suggests it’s quite an apt nickname. Scientists have discovered that far more than just telling the brain when we’re hungry, the gut is communicating all sorts of things with the brain, including fear and anxiety, through a complex set of pathways, in less time than it takes to blink. Diego Bohórquez, an assistant professor of medicine at Duke University School of Medicine and co-author of the study, believes that the findings could be a “biological basis for the idea of a sixth sense," a revelation that, if true, could help treat a multitude of brain disorders and have practical uses in our day-to-day lives.

So what is exactly going on in our gut? A LOT. It’s home to 500 different types of bacteria, amounting to 100 trillion microorganisms that comprise between 70-80% of the body’s immune system. The gut is truly its own ecosystem, fighting off infections, digesting our food, and aiding in healthy gastrointestinal functioning. And depending on what we feed it, those bacteria can either help or hurt us. For instance, scientists have long observed a link between good health and a diet high in fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, but most of the benefits from fiber aren’t directly delivered to our bodies. Instead, the fiber acts as a prebiotic, feeding the good (probiotic) bacteria in the gut, and they LOVE the stuff. Feed yourself more fiber, and these microbes will thrive, not only increasing the body's ability to fight off infections, but thickening the mucus wall of our intestinal lining, which prevents toxins and other bacteria from releasing into the bloodstream (commonly referred to as leaky gut syndrome.)

Interested in other foods that can help make your gut happy? In addition to fermented foods like yogurt and kimchi, which all contain gut-pleasing probiotics, look to the mushroom kingdom. Acting as prebiotic, mushrooms allow the good bacteria in the gut to flourish. Happy gut equals a healthy body. For a tasty way to get your ‘shrooms check out our organic mushroom lattes here.