This concept was quite shocking to me, even though I had a medical background. I had no idea that my gut was so strongly linked to my immune system.
Did you know that the GI mucosal membrane surface is the largest interface between our internal body and the external world? It’s not only the largest in size at more than 4300 square feet (400 square meters), but also 60% of the immune system is located within the GI tract.
The GI mucosal layer is in charge of allowing in only health-promoting nutrients, while keeping out potentially damaging molecules and organisms. This protective cell layer provides a barrier between the inside of the body and the external world, and is responsible for nutrient absorption.
Without the GI barrier, molecules of all types would get into our blood without being detected; thereby avoiding the body’s first line protection and defense mechanisms.
For example, a study of 200 children with cow’s milk allergy showed a significant increase in intestinal permeability in the children with the allergy as compared to controls.
So why am I bringing all this up???
Learning and understanding the concept of “gut health” was the rate limiting step for me in understanding the association between nutrition and my autoimmune disease. If 60% of our immune system is located in our gut, what are we putting in our body to keep it healthy?
So let’s stop and think for a minute. If the basis of your immune system is broken and you find out you have a disorder associated with your immune system, then how do you fix it? Rather than JUST targeting the disease itself, it’s imperative to identify how to fix the problem from the root.
How can we do this you ask? (IFM, 2010)
1. Remove toxic substances from the diet
2. Replace enzymes for digestive support
3. Reinoculate the digestive track with good bacteria to help with metabolism
4. Repair the GI tract with foods necessary to heal the mucosa
This is just scratching the surface and introducing this topic briefly. Keep reading and following as I will break this down in detail and personally take you on my journey of healing!
Reference: Jones, D. et al. Institute for Functional Medicine (2010). Textbook of Functional Medicine. Gig Harbor, WA.: Institute for Functional Medicine.