When most people think of the immune system, they think about a complex system made up of organs, cells, and proteins. This includes the bone marrow, thymus, lymph nodes, vessels, spleen, skin, and special cells. The function of your immune system is to protect your body from things that could make you sick. This includes toxins, poisons, bacteria, viruses, or even your own body.
However, did you know that approximately 70% of the immune system is in the gut (aka gastrointestinal tract)?
The gastrointestinal tract includes your mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and rectum. Its main role is to turn nutrients in food into fuel. Our body depends on nutrients for important things like energy, growth, repairing cells, and fighting illness.
Our digestive tract has a mucous lining that contain proteins produced by the immune system in response to infection (antibodies). Along with this defense, the acid in the stomach can kill invaders that try to make the body sick. Immune cells in the gut interact with the diverse collection of microbes such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses, that naturally live inside our bodies (known as the microbiome). Trillions of bacteria live in your digestive system, and they play a key role in digestion, absorption, and immune regulation. These “gut bugs” (aka “the good bacteria”) are involved in many other important processes in the body including metabolism, body weight, as well as mood and brain function.
A “healthy gut” has a barrier that does an excellent job at keeping the contents of the gut (and its toxins and microbes), from escaping into the bloodstream. If your gut barrier is weakened, small particles like bacteria and toxins can escape into your bloodstream. Once there, they are flagged as intruders and can trigger your immune system. This “leaky gut”, or breach in the gut’s defense, can promote continuous immune activation and inflammation which may increase risk for various diseases.
So how do we keep a healthy gut defense? What we eat and the condition of our gut helps to maintain a healthy immune system. Having a gut that has an optimal balance of gut flora also supports the absorption of nutrients which is important in fighting infections.
Proper nutrition is key. Eating a majority plant-based diet, in addition to maintaining a healthy weight, helps to boost the microbiome and the immune system. We maintain this balance by helping the microbes already there to grow (prebiotics) and adding living microbes directly to your system (probiotics).
Prebiotics are made of specialized plant fiber that the gut microflora feed on. They provide nourishment and stimulate growth among the preexisting good bacteria. We can get these from fiber-rich fruits and vegetables such as yams or bananas (and many more). Probiotics are the “good” bacteria that live in our gut and can be found in fermented foods like yogurt or kombucha. They contain living strains of bacteria that add to the population in your digestive system. Some herbs and tea are also a source for prebiotics and probiotics, which brings us to our product spotlight: Pu-erh (check out VIP Wellness Tea Organic Almond-Caramel Pu-erh, PuriTea here).
Pu-erh tea comes from a large-leaf variety of the Camellia sinensis tea plant made in the Yunnan province of China. However, unlike green or black tea, these tea leaves go through a microbial fermentation process after they have been dried and rolled, which gives the leaves a dark color and rich flavor. This fermentation process yields the beneficial gut bacteria, probiotics. This tea ages well with time, like wine, and age is one of the factors that determines pricing. This unique tea is considered a luxury tea and has sold for as much as $1.7 million USD for 2060g!
Pu-erh has many reported health benefits which include aiding in digestion, lowering cholesterol, and improving blood sugar and weight. Studies have suggested that Pu-erh tea may also help to prevent heart disease by producing a natural statin commonly used to treat high cholesterol. Also, like other teas, it’s loaded with antioxidants such as polyphenols which help to cleanse toxins and free radicals from the body. Further research in humans in ongoing.
Dr. T's Tea Talk Tips
- Consult with your medical provider if considering adding a supplement to your diet.
- Eat plenty of plants. Focus on “eating the rainbow” which means foods should be colorful and a variety (mainly fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts). Plants have an insoluble fiber that is important for digestion. In addition, they’re packed with antioxidants and nutrients.
- Eat fermented foods as a source of healthy bacteria for your gut.
- Limit foods high in sugar, animal fats, or processed.
- Pay attention to your poop! Constipation or other changes in how you digest or eliminate (heartburn, other) could be a sign of imbalance. Get recommended screening such as colonoscopy.
- Stay hydrated with water. Water supports digestion and cleansing. Drinking tea helps to meet this goal!
- Stay active! Moving your body helps with digestion and stress levels (mind-gut connection).
Remember to trust your gut. Seek medical attention if something doesn’t feel right. Be well and live well.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither VIP Wellness Tea™, its associates, nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.
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