Gut Reactions

Stomaching a healthy immune system

Gut Reactions

Whether you’re HIV-positive or not, the chances are good that your immune system is not going to take the title of this year’s “Miss Perfect Pageant”. In fact, with the prevalence of high levels of stress, lack of sleep, the consumption of medication, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and other party drugs, and an increase in environmental toxins, your immune system probably won’t even get 1st Princess, it may not even get a consolation prize. #Shame.

It’s autumn, and John Snow said it best, “Winter is coming.” So we all have to do what we can to protect ourselves from the impending tsunami of cold and flu infections. A weak immune system can also make you more vulnerable to other diseases like herpes, glandular fever, throat infection and pink eye, among many others. So, bolstering your immune system and giving it some TLC would be a good idea. How to do that? Go with your gut.

You’ve probably heard the adage, “What you put in is what you get out.” This is especially so when it comes to the relationship between your gut and your nervous system. If you chow sweets, fried foods, processed carbs followed by yet another triple-espresso and some customary puffs on a cigarette, you shouldn’t be surprised if you get saddled with bronchitis and an unsightly fever blister. These things in excess all make the body acidic and prevent the immune system from doing what it does best; protecting you.

In your belly, there is this awesome little ecosystem of beneficial microorganisms that are collectively referred to as a microbiome. This helpful community of “innard critters” work hard to keep your body balanced and nutrient-rich. The stomach takes up 70% of the body’s immune system efforts as it neutralises or obliterates whatever “nasties” you may have been ingesting. You can help these tactical tummy-tykes by eating foods that contribute to maintaining healthy gut bacteria. Yoghurt, kombucha, sauerkraut and other fermented foods can help with this, as can prebiotic and probiotic supplements. A healthy immune system can and will protect you if it has everything it needs to do its job.

There may also be a new meaning for the term “gut feeling”. Depression, anxiety, weight-gain and sleeplessness not only make you miserable, but they also compromise your immune system further, and can make a sad day that much sadder if it ends with a bad case of bladder infection or thrush, or any other hyena-like opportunistic infection that jumps the moment your immune system becomes vulnerable.

Mounting evidence suggests that neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which regulate metabolism, sleep, depression and libido, amongst other things, synthesise during the unique interaction between the digestive system and the nervous system, which is why the gut is recently being referred to as the “second brain.” So, the state of your microbiome and your eating habits can control how happy you feel, how hot you find that guy at the gym, as well as how well you’ll sleep tonight. Hectic. So you ARE what you eat. Or, perhaps, FEEL what you eat, is more appropriate.

A healthy happy gut likes more of the following: Green leafy vegetables, eggs, healthy fermented foods (as mentioned above), ginger, garlic, turmeric and other foods that will stifle inflammation as well as other whole organic foods.

To improve your belly’s wellbeing: Drink less booze and caffeine and don’t eat as much sugar, processed carbs and fried foods.

The bonus is that your stomach will not only be happier; but flatter too, which will be fabulous when summer swings around again and that guy at gym has noticed you paying more attention.

Now THAT is a belly full.