The gut makes up a significant part of our immune system with its protective barrier, cell structures and bacterial colonies (microbiota) unique to each individual. A poorly functioning barrier system, may allow swallowed and potentially harmful bacteria or viruses and also food proteins to sneak across the barrier into the blood system. This increased susceptibility, activates the immune system causing inflammation. This poor barrier function happens when the lining of the gut becomes weakened and inflamed and the usual tight junctions between gut cells are compromised, increasing susceptibility to immune activation and viral infection. Eating a diverse, fresh and balanced diet is one of the most powerful ways to support our immune system. Both by providing functional nutrient components directly eg. vitamins and minerals; indigestible fibres to provide fuel for the beneficial microbes in our gut and by influencing conditions in the gut, which benefit from a slightly acid environment.
More brain receptors are found in the gut than anywhere else in the body, and communicate with the brain and the rest of the body, using the enteric nervous system or the gut-brain axis. The gut is responsive not only to nutrient absorption, the passage of bacteria and viruses but to other stimuli like thoughts, feelings and anxieties. Mood, concentration and wellbeing are all influenced by what and how we eat. Physical symptoms experienced in the gut when responding to emotions or stresses, can of course influence our eating behaviour and choices – both consciously and unconsciously. During puberty and the teenage years, a time linked with increasing pressure, and more recently significant changes in mental health and wellbeing, emotional issues can present as physical problems and vice versa. Gut feelings and ongoing negative emotions alter the gut microbiotia significantly, and changes the delicate balance of beneficial species like the bifidobacteria and lactobacillus genus, allowing more opportunitic bacteria to multiply, producing a range of effects: reducing tight junctions between cells fires
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