We know that the gut is the primary battleground for immune health, but how do we correspond with our frontline defense? By recognizing daily signals that may indicate an immune health issue, such as Celiac or Crohn’s disease, we can be more proactive with our health1. Our bodies communicate to us through discomfort so learning to make the connection is key to addressing the problem. Left unchecked, persistent immune issues leave us vulnerable to more serious health conditions.
Let us move past this paradigm of accepting less than perfect well-being and boost our immune health today.
Digestive Discomfort Can Be a Sign of Immune Health Issues
Got gas? It’s okay, we all do. Expelling gas is normal with the frequency depending on your diet. If you have excessive gas that you would like to reduce, I recommend removing specific items from your diet that you suspect as a cause and note the difference. Lactose intolerance (digestion issues with cow milk sugars) and Celiac disease (digestion issues with wheat, rye, and barley products), for instance, can both cause excessive gas and may be relieved by dietary changes.
Ever have the “too-full feeling” of being bloated? This is a discomfort tolerated by many that should be avoided as it challenges your immune system. Avoid overeating, rapid eating, and excessive use of salt, fat, or sugar to prevent bloating. More serious issues associated with bloating are weight gain, constipation, Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and ulcerative colitis.
Another possible immunity issue that can be very uncomfortable is constipation, which is defined as less than three bowel movements a week. If your food choices are generally healthy and you already include high-fiber and have reduced processed foods, you can try eating less dairy and/or meat. Drinking plenty of fluids, staying physically active, and avoiding stress are also helpful to combat constipation.
That brings us to diarrhea, which is defined as loose, watery, and more-frequent bowel movements than normal. Although not pleasant, a short bout of diarrhea lasting no more than a few days can be harmless, only requiring you to think about what you eat and maybe make different choices. Persistent diarrhea that goes beyond a few days, however, leaves your immune system compromised2. It may be that your immune system is just slightly overwhelmed by some type of pathogen, but other causes include medications, lactose intolerance, fructose, and artificial sweeteners. Lastly, diarrhea can also be signs of Crohn's disease, Celiac disease, or IBS so it should not be ignored if persistent.
Heartburn, another common discomfort, can also be a sign of a gut/immune issue3. Heartburn is acid reflux, a condition where some of the stomach contents are forced back up into the esophagus. It creates a burning pain in the lower chest. Most often heartburn is due to consuming certain foods or drinks (for example spicy foods, fried and fatty foods, alcohol, or carbonated beverages). Think about what, and how much, you are consuming and realize that when heartburn occurs, your gut is busy addressing your consumption issues and not able to focus on your immune health.
Finally, let us stop ignoring any discomfort as a normal state of being that we should tolerate and instead learn to appreciate these feelings as signs from our body that something needs to change. While most do not eat a perfect diet that fully supports immune health, we can be mindful of our consumption and keep our immune health in check, avoiding more serious consequences that can come from a compromised immune system.
Matthew Bednar, PhD
Bringing science out of the lab and into your life.
- The role of gut microbiota in immune homeostasis and autoimmunity, Wu HJ, Wu E.Gut Microbes. 2012;3(1):4‐14.
- IL-22 Upregulates Epithelial Claudin-2 to Drive Diarrhea and Enteric Pathogen Clearance, Pei-Yun Tsai, Bingkun Zhang, Wei-Qi He, Yang-Xin Fu, Sachiko Tsukita, Jerrold R. Turner, Cell Host Microbe, vol 21, ISSUE 6, 2017.
- Immune and Inflammatory Responses in GERD and Lansoprazole, Isomoto H, Nishi Y, Kanazawa Y, et al. J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2007;41(2):84‐91. doi:10.3164/jcbn.2007012