The Link Between The Digestive System and Immune Health
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD
How does the health of the digestive system impact the immune system? In this article, we will discuss the importance of having a healthy digestive tract and how it plays a pivotal role in immune health.
The Role of the Immune System
The immune system protects the body from foreign cells, tissues, toxins, and other pathogens that could harm the body. The immune system identifies threats and works to neutralize them quickly. The following health issues have been linked to a compromised immune system:
Blood sugar regulation: The immune cells mistakenly attack the healthy cells in the pancreas that make insulin.
Tissue disorders. When healthy tissues in the lungs, kidneys, and skin are attacked by the immune system.
Joint pain. In extreme situations, pain, deformities, and swelling can occur in various joints throughout the body.
Chronic Inflammation in the Gastrointestinal Tract.
Approximately one in five people suffer from autoimmunity. Women are more likely to have an autoimmune disorder than men.
Digestive System Health
The digestive system (also known as the gastrointestinal tract) receives food, absorbs its nutrients, and converts it to energy to fuel the body. The mouth, stomach, esophagus, and intestines are all part of the digestive system. Common digestive system ailments include the following:
- Celiac disease
- Peptic ulcer
- Intestinal infections
- Irritable bowel disease
- Abdominal pain
- Lactose intolerance
- Crohn’s disease
In 2018, the CDC reported that 22.4 million people went to the doctor to treat diseases of the digestive system. There are many potential reasons for the medical conditions listed above. One such possibility that must be considered is a weakened intestinal wall in the digestive tract.
The Importance of the Intestinal Wall
The intestinal walls, in particular, play an essential role in digestion and overall health. The lower intestines are covered with finger-like tissues called villi and microvilli. These tissues increase the intestinal wall’s surface area so it can absorb nutrients from food more efficiently. It also forms a protective barrier against pathogens, toxins, and bacteria. Problems arise when there is a breach in the intestinal wall, allowing these and other harmful particles to enter the bloodstream. When this occurs, the immune system must work to repel them. Over time, this can put a strain on the immune system, weakening it and making it susceptible to other health issues.
Dangers of Intestinal Wall Weakness
The waste material from food, fats, salts, and other substances are released from the liver and large intestine, where it is transferred to the colon. From there, it is removed from the body through bowel movements. However, if the intestinal walls become porous, bacteria pathogens and other toxins can escape the gut and enter the bloodstream.
The gut contains nearly 1000 species of good bacteria, which amounts to trillions of cells. If the gut has more bad bacteria than good bacteria, health issues can ensue. These unhealthy bacteria can escape via the intestinal wall and enter the bloodstream where they could cause a variety of health issues, as discussed above.
Research on the condition is still ongoing, but a recent study found that “the permeability of the epithelial lining may be compromised, allowing the passage of toxins, antigens, and bacteria to enter the bloodstream creating a ‘leaky gut.’”
Symptoms of a Weak Intestinal Wall
The medical profession does not view a compromised intestinal wall as an actual medical condition. However, many feel this is a legitimate health issue that could compromise the immune system and are recognized as such. The following are potential symptoms of intestinal wall permeability:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Joint pain
- Nutritional deficiencies
Many will take medication to treat these various symptoms, not realizing an issue with their intestinal walls could cause them. By not getting to the root cause of their health issues, the probability of remaining ill (and having a compromised immune system) remains high.
Causes of Intestinal Wall Weakness
Even though the permeability of the intestinal wall isn’t an actual ailment, several risk factors could damage the gut microbiota, leading to the damage of the intestinal barrier:
Poor diet. The following foods could disrupt the gut microbiome, increasing the risk of intestinal permeability: sugar, processed foods, soy, dairy products, red meat, gluten, genetically modified foods (GMO’s), corn, farm-raised fish, artificial sweeteners and tap water.
Preliminary research indicates a high-fat diet enhances intestinal permeability by increasing barrier-disrupting cytokines and potentially increases a type of gut-disrupting microflora species. Researchers concluded their study by noting current data “may suggest a stronger link between diet and intestinal disease than was first thought to exist.”
Autoimmunity. Recent studies have shown a potential link between intestinal barrier dysfunction and autoimmunity. Autoimmune related conditions may be affected by a gut microbiota imbalance. In turn, this could be a “causative element for immune disorders.”
Blood sugar regulation issues. The consensus was that issues related to blood sugar regulation occurred before the intestinal wall is compromised. However, studies on both human and animal subjects indicate impaired intestinal function happened before the onset of blood sugar dysregulation conditions.
Alcohol consumption. Chronic alcohol consumption has been shown to cause intestinal barrier dysfunction by decreasing both the quality and quantity of gut bacteria, thus increasing the risk of intestinal wall permeability.
Strengthening the Intestinal Wall
Maintaining a healthy gut and preventing intestinal permeability is essential for good health. Here are the top ways to improve gut health:
- In addition to avoiding the foods listed above, replace them with the following foods:
· Brussel sprouts
· Swiss chard
Tubers and Roots
· Sweet potatoes
Nut and Seeds
· Chia Seeds
· Flax seeds
· Sunflower seeds
· Brazil nuts
· All omega-3 rich fish
· Bone broth
· Coconut milk
· Filtered Water
Herbs and Spices
· All herbs and spices
Meats and eggs
· Lean cuts of chicken
· Greek yogurt
· Traditional buttermilk
- Get adequate rest. The body repairs itself while sleeping. Chronic sleep deprivation can weaken the immune system, which can impact gut health.
- Exercise. Cardiovascular exercise can improve oxygen efficiency throughout the body, including the digestive tract. This can help stimulate the production of healthy gut microbes.
- Increase collagen consumption. Bone broth, gelatin, and other foods containing collagen help to repair and rebuild the gut lining.
- Increase the intake of healthy fats. Short-chain fatty acids provide nourishment to the cells that line the gut and intestinal walls. Coconut oil, avocado, chia seeds, and ghee are examples of healthy fats.
- Decrease stress. When stressed, the body produces the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine. If left unchecked, elevated cortisol levels could have a detrimental effect on a person’s health: obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and digestive issues have all been linked to stress and elevated cortisol levels.
Supplements for Digestive Health
Supplements provide another option for improving digestive health. The following supplements are designed to strengthen the intestinal walls and decrease permeability.
DesBio - Intestinal Restore - 30 servings
DesBio - Intestinal Restore is specifically designed to strengthen the integrity of the intestinal wall, soothe inflamed tissues, and stimulate the digestion of macronutrients. This product helps to alleviate digestive issues such as bloating, gas, constipation, inflammation, and diarrhea.
ION* For Gut Health - 32oz Bottle
ION* For Gut Health was created by Zach Bush MD. It is extracted from ancient soils over 60 million years old. It contains a Terrahydrite mineral supplement that comes from soil that has been scientifically proven to protect the gut wall against toxins. This product will help improve gut bacteria as well as overall health. In addition to Terrahydrite, ION* For Gut Health contains deionized reverse osmosis purified water, minerals, and trace soil amino acids.
G.I. Wellness Package
The G.I. Wellness Package features the following products from Systematic Formulas:
LGUT: Reduces inflammation while restoring the integrity of the gut/body barrier.
Enzee: uses powerful enzymes to eliminate harmful allergens that impact the microvilli, such as dairy and gluten.
Bind: Helps remove toxins from the G.I. tract, as well as absorb toxins, heavy metals, mycotoxins, and chemicals.
To have a robust immune system, a healthy gastrointestinal tract is critical. Headaches, fatigue, diarrhea, inflammation, and many other ailments have been linked to digestive issues. While a compromised intestinal wall is not considered a valid health concern, preliminary studies indicate bacteria, pathogens, and viruses passing through the wall and entering the bloodstream can have a dramatic impact on a person’s health. Many of the processed foods and unhealthy lifestyle habits practiced in modern times have been shown to disrupt the gut microbiome, as well as damage the intestinal wall. This can put a strain on the immune system, as it must work hard to neutralize these issues.
By taking the appropriate steps to ensure their digestive system is healthy, a person is one step closer to a robust immune system and the good health they desire.
Medical Disclaimer: This article is based upon the opinions of Revelation Health. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Revelation Health and associates. This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD for accuracy of the information provided, but Revelation Health encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.
1. Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D. Progress in Autoimmune Diseases. Research.https://www.niaid.nih.gov/sites/default/files/adccfinal.pdf]
2. Digestive Diseases. National Center for Health Statistics.https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/digestive-diseases.htm
3. Mu Q, Kirby J, (et al.).. Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases. Front Immunol. 2017 May 23;8:598. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2017.00598. [PMID: 28588585]; PMCID: PMC5440529.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5440529/
4. Michael W Rohr, Chandrakala A Narasimhulu, Trina A Rudeski-Rohr, (et al). Negative Effects of a High-Fat Diet on Intestinal Permeability: A Review, Advances in Nutrition, Volume 11, Issue 1, January 2020, Pages 77–91,https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmz061https://academic.oup.com/advances/article/11/1/77/5527771
5. Qinghui Mu, Jay Kirby, Xin M. Luo (et al). Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases. Published online 2017 May 23. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2017.00598. [PMCID: PMC5440529] PMID: 28588585 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5440529/#!po=0.328947