Have you ever wondered why there are so many expressions using the gut? When we want to say follow your instincts, we say “follow your gut”. When we want to say it takes courage, we say “it takes guts”. When something is unpleasant, we say it is “gut wrenching”. All point to the extreme importance of intestinal health…but why is it important?
Every day when eating or drinking, many known and unknown, good and sometimes less good substances enter our body, and we don’t even think twice about it. Most interactions between our body and the external environment happen in the gastrointestinal tract and we are extremely lucky that the cells of the immune system are also located in the intestinal tract to provide protection in times of need. In fact, the link between the immune system and gut health is well known with 79% of global consumers acknowledging the link between these two health areas, according to a 2022 survey from FMCG Gurus.
1. The Intestine - A Multifunction System1,2
The intestine represents the largest interface between “us” and the environment. If you once thought you were deciding what you keep inside your body, you were wrong. At least partially. Whatever enters your gut isn’t truly ‘inside’ your body.
All along the intestinal wall there is a structure that forms a boundary between what remains in the gut lumen and what gets absorbed: meet the intestinal barrier.
2. The Intestinal Barrier
Composed by a single layer of cells tightly packed and connected, the intestinal barrier is responsible for controlling the ins and outs of external substances and molecules. It’s by means of this structure that water, nutrients, ions cross the barrier and microorganisms don’t; therefore it is of extreme importance to ensure that the intestinal barrier works properly to let nutrients and water in and keep harmful substances out.
3. The First Line Of Defense4–6
Did you know 70% of immune system resides in the gastrointestinal tract? The gastrointestinal tract is considered the largest immunological organ in the body, having a central role in regulating immune balance. It is the primary gatekeeper and controller against threats, acting as a physical barrier and an immune surveillance system. Both systems work in tandem to sample the environment, detect potential threats and call for action if needed.
4. Gut Integrity Affects Your Health 7–9
If you’re not convinced yet, just know that intestinal barrier disruption has been linked to various inflammatory, immunological, and intestinal conditions. There are 3 key factors that contribute to intestinal immunological responsiveness. Genetic predisposition is the first. The immune system must be able to to spot and interpret environmental triggers, the antigens. Second, the host must be exposed to the trigger. Finally, the antigen must be handed out to the gastrointestinal immune system to be recognized.
If this gut-immune communication does not work properly, it leads to a miscommunication and unbalanced immune response. It is explained by the leaky gut theory4 that suggests that internal and external factors can increase intestinal permeability, allowing bacteria and other harmful substances to get in. Compromised gut integrity and increased permeability have been seen to cause an abnormality in antigen delivery that precedes and triggers chronic inflammatory processes.
Taking care of your gut health doesn’t just impact your gut, but also your immune system and overall wellbeing. Improving intestinal barrier function results in better immune response, transport, food and water absorption and less susceptibility to unhealthy conditions. Now that the importance of immune system in gastrointestinal health has become clear, only one question remains:
Do you have the guts?