Very few know about the microbes that humans play host to in their gastrointestinal tract, but they have an important role to play in the proper functioning of a healthy immune system
The human body is a mix of complex mechanisms that work together to ensure a healthy life. An imbalance in diet, exercise and even the smaller microorganisms that live within the human body can have major repercussions. We may not think much of the microbes that dwell inside our gastrointestinal tract, but they play a very important role in ensuring that we have a healthy life and a strong immune system.
On the topic of microbes and their importance in the maintenance of health for people Dr Priyanka Rohatgi, Chief Clinical Dietician, Apollo hospitals and Dr Uma Trasi, Senior Dietician at Manipal Hospitals, Malleshwaram, Bengaluru shared some valuable insights.
Dr Rohatgi describes gut microbiome as a vital component of health as it controls digestion and assimilation, hence it ensures the proper functioning of a healthy immune system. She says “An imbalance of unhealthy and healthy microbes in the intestines can be correlated to weight gain, high blood sugar, high cholesterol and other problematic long-term disorders”.
Dr Trasi mentions the impact of gut microbes on the immunity of individuals. “These microbes have tremendous potential to impact our physiology, both in health and in disease,” she says.
As the microbes in the intestinal tract can be the reason behind such health issues, it is no wonder that they can also lead to the lowering of immunity. On this issue, Dr Rohatgi opines,
the link between gut microbes and immunity is extremely strong. She says, “Gut health is the basis of balance in the immune system maintained by eliminating invading pathogens. The body needs to maintain self-tolerance to avoid autoimmunity, which is critical.
“The gut microbiota that resides in the gastrointestinal tract provides essential health benefits to its host, particularly by regulating immune homeostasis. Moreover, it has recently become obvious that alterations of these gut microbial communities can cause immune dysregulation, leading to autoimmune disorders.”
Now that it is obvious that microbes in the human gut can have lasting effects on the health of individuals, it is important to understand how one can maintain a healthy gut and by extension ensure a healthy immune system. However, when it comes to ensuring a healthy gut, Dr Rohatgi says there are ‘no shortcuts’. The gut microbial community (microbiota) in humans has co-evolved with its host over millennia as have the benefits they provide in the form of digestion, production of nutrients, detoxification, protection against pathogens and regulation of the immune system.
However, she advises the consumption of natural foods which all of us have grown up eating as the body is used to it. “Ultra-processed diets, keto, HFSS rich foods are all bad for gut health. So stick to naturally grown plant foods and not foods manufactured in plants,” she adds.
It is also important to ensure the consumption of alkaline and anti-inflammatory foods when it comes to ensuring a healthy gut. “Natural alkaline foods are good for many reasons as they are really nutrient-dense and loaded with calcium, vitamins, fibre and iron. These also include leafy veggies, kale, cucumber, carrots, sweet potato, bananas, kiwis and cauliflowers,” she says.
While alkaline foods should be consumed as they provide for a healthier gut there are certain foods and habits that should be avoided. Dr Rohatgi says that stress (mental or physiological) a sudden change in eating habits, foods, timings, starvation, smoking, use of steroids, oral contraceptives, overt spicy diet, can all put the gut at risk of inflammation and should be avoided. Failing to do so can result in inflammation, eating disorders and other health issues. And these are just the tip of the iceberg. An inflamed gut can also result in lowered immunity which during a pandemic can increase the risk of infection from the Coronavirus.
Echoing her advice, Dr Trasi says that for a healthy gut the following points should be kept in mind: “Lower your stress levels, do simple exercises, get good sleep, eat a balanced diet with whole grains, good amount of protein, green and orange vegetables, fruits, nuts and fermented foods. These will provide the recommended micronutrients, during the Covid pandemic, like Vitamin A, D, C, E, omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids and Zinc”.
She also advises the use of spices like pepper, ginger, garlic, and herbs and the importance of keeping oneself well hydrated. Another important thing to remember is to say no to processed foods and added sugars which can decrease the number of good bacteria in your gut. This can increase food cravings, which can damage your gut further.
High amounts of refined sugars, particularly high-fructose corn syrup, have been linked to increased inflammation in the body. There are a number of lifestyle changes you can make to positively affect your gut health and your overall health as a result.
Talking about the importance of risks associated with an unhealthy gut, Dr Trasi says that it may affect other aspects of an individual’s health, such as the brain, heart, immune system, skin, weight, hormone levels, ability to absorb nutrients, and even the development of cancer. “A balanced gut will have less difficulty processing food and eliminating waste. The growth and development of robust gut microbiota is important for the development of the immune system and overall health” she adds.
Keeping in mind that the current pandemic has thrown normal life out of gear and has increased the need to maintain a healthy immune system, Dr Trasi says, “Good gut health can help people keep away mood swings, ensure good sleep and help to overcome chronic fatigue, It also helps the body to absorb nutrients in a better way thus improving the immune system which can lead to a faster recovery in individuals testing positive for the Coronavirus.”
Dr Reshma is an advocate of wellness, prevention and holistic health. Instagram handle: dr.reshmakhattarbhagat