If you’ve ever questioned the strength of your immune system, it is important to understand why your body may be so prone to getting sick. You might just happen to be exposed to more bacteria and viruses, or perhaps there is a more root cause to be explored. Negative stress is a long-term enemy to the body’s immune system and one of the leading causes of a weakened immune response.
First, it is important to understand how the body actually perceives stress. We have been conditioned to recognize stress as a response to situations such as long workdays, long study hours, and responsibilities at either home or work. Even though these are all contributing factors, we must acknowledge and consider other factors like diet-induced inflammation to the body and poor “gut health”, whereby the integrity of the digestive tract and intestinal lining may be damaged; also referred to as “dysbiosis.” Dysbiosis is added stress to the body. This is an important concept to explore as 80% of our immune system actually lies in our gut1! Therefore, if our digestive tract is undergoing internal stress, it is likely a considerable root cause for a weakened immunes system. In this article, I will further explain how diet and dysbiosis are considered added negative stress to the human body and can lead to a weakened immune system.
Diet research is ongoing in order to provide us with the best evidence-based diet recommendations and strategies to help keep us healthy. However, we must not ignore one of the important key features of Naturopathic Medicine: treating the individual! In my experience, targeting food sensitivities and promoting a diet that is specific to each individual’s needs and goals has been a key component in improving health. Food sensitivities, even within the healthy realm of eating (i.e., fruits and vegetables), can cause the body to produce IgG antibodies against certain foods, thereby resulting in inflammation in the body. Often, sensitivities go unnoticed because they may not produce a noticeable reaction like an anaphylactic food allergy would. Many people have accepted symptoms like feeling bloated, tired, or experiencing indigestion after a meal to be ‘normal’, when in fact, these can all be symptoms of a food sensitivity. In addition, it can take up to five days for the body to fully eliminate food. Therefore, added exposure daily to certain foods creates more antibodies against those foods and in turn puts stress on the body and digestive tract. The body is now dealing with an inflammatory response instead of focusing on proper digestion. Over time, this internal inflammatory response continues to create added strain to the digestive tract which interferes with the body’s normal functioning. As a result, the body’s immune defense system is one of the first to get affected, increasing the likelihood of us getting ill more often.
Most common food sensitivities that can weaken the immune system:
- Refined sugars
- Nightshade family (ex. tomato’s, eggplant etc.)
- Eggs (egg white and/or egg yolk)
You can talk to your Naturopathic Doctor about food sensitivity tests that are specific to IgG antibodies, to examine your body’s response against certain foods. The key idea is to recognize how diet can be overlooked and lead to added negative stress to the digestive tract, thereby altering the strength of the immune system.
Dysbiosis and Gut Health
Dysbiosis is a term used to describe the imbalance of good bacteria in the digestive tract. Our healthy bacteria are what maintain the integrity of normal digestion. Our digestive tract is important for proper absorption of nutrients and water, hormone metabolism, and the immune system. Common causes of dysbiosis are antibiotic use, inflammation caused by the food sensitivities as previously discussed, increased external stress, and bacterial infections, to name a few. Therefore, it is primarily important to restore the integrity of the digestive tract and eliminate inflammatory stress when trying to strengthen the immune system. Otherwise, supplementing with vitamins will not be as effective due to improper digestion and malabsorption of the appropriate therapeutic dose. In my experience, I have found that in addition to detecting and eliminating food sensitivities, introducing a suitable probiotic and L-Glutamine in the primary stages is an easy and effective protocol to initiate healing in the gut.
Probiotics help restore good microflora in the gut and replenish the desired ‘good’ bacteria. It is imperative to establish which probiotic will benefit an individual, as not all are made the same. It is essential to not only look at the amount of bacteria in a product, but also the types of bacteria strains in it. The requirements will differ for each individual case and a thorough intake from your Naturopathic Doctor will facilitate the choosing of a probiotic.
L-Glutamine is an effective supplement because it acts as both an immune support and is specific for strengthening and repairing the intestinal lining2. Glutamine in an essential amino acid for the body and gets depleted when the body is put under stress including vigorous exercise. An appropriate dose would typically be 5g once or twice per day in a powder form.
There is a strong relationship between stress and the immune system. Stress interferes with normal functioning of the body’s systems including digestion and immune system health. Considering the fact that the majority of our immune system lies in our gut, strengthening and restoring its integrity while eliminating inflammation will aid in digestion, allow nutrients to be absorbed more efficiently and in turn, improve the overall strength of our immune systems. This will allow us to better manage bacterial and/or viral exposure while fighting off infections and avoid having to go through its individual symptoms.
Dr. Kristina Fallico is an Ontario licensed Naturopathic Doctor, who graduated from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and is a member of the CAND and the OAND. Her practice focuses on both men and women’s health concerns, pediatric care, chronic diseases, pain management and sports injuries. Furthermore, she is currently training in Osteopathy. In addition to seeing patients, she will write articles for magazines, online health blogs and websites about trending health topics and she performs health seminars for competitive dancers.
- Vighi, G. , Marcucci, F et al. Allergy and the Gastrointestinal Tract . Clin Exp Immunol. 2008 Sep; 153(Suppl 1): 3–6.
- Glutamine. WebMD website. http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-878-glutamine.aspx?activeingredientid=878&activeingredientname=glutamine Accessed Dec. 7 2015.