We’re always waxing lyrical about the health benefits of drinking kombucha and eating fermented foods: it’s good for your gut and supports a healthy immune system. Although we still don’t know the full extent of the interaction between the gut microbiome and our immune system, there is a lot of research out there that demonstrates how a healthy gut can massively benefit a strong immune system.
What’s a ‘healthy gut’?
The gut is actually a whole group of organs that make up our gastrointestinal system: that includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, colon, and rectum. But often when you hear people talking about gut health, they’re really talking about the bit that extends from the stomach, including the intestines, to the anus.
A healthy gut is one with a diverse microbiome. There’s literally trillions of different types of microbes (bacteria, yeasts, fungi, viruses, protozoans, etc …) that live in your stomach and intestines and do different jobs: digesting fibre and other nutrients, producing vitamins, regulating your weight, and communicating with your brain. And everyone’s gut is specific to them, like a fingerprint. Your gut starts producing and incorporating different microbes before you’re even born, but your body slows down with age, so it gets harder to maintain a diverse microbiome as you get older.
So a healthy gut is a gut with many different types of microbes carrying out all these jobs, but not only does a healthy gut have a diverse microbiome, it also has the right balance of microbes in it. Too many or too little of one microbe in your gut can lead to infections, and increased risk of problems like heart disease, cancer and obesity.
Your body gives you lots of signs about whether your gut is unhealthy, such as stomach discomfort, food cravings and fatigue. Read more about this here.
What does the gut have to do with the immune system?
A diverse gut microbiome keeps your overall gut (the entire gastrointestinal system) healthy, and the gut is one of the main disease-fighting systems of the human body.
The digestive tract plays a really important role in immune function: “All foods we eat are in communication with immune receptors in the digestive tract, triggering hormones and various cell types that help the body with its immune function.”
Tissues on the walls of the intestines monitor the lining of the gut and are responsible for triggering an immune response by producing antibodies to fight rogue antigens and allergy-causing substances when needed.
And of course, the walls of the stomach and intestines keep it all in there, and prevent bacteria and pathogens you might ingest from escaping into your bloodstream. When the bad bacteria does escape because of a weak gut, this is known as Leaky Gut, and can cause a whole range of infections and diseases.
How does kombucha and fermented foods improve gut health?
Kombucha and other foods like yoghurt and kefir are made by preserving foods through the process of fermentation using yeast and bacteria— this produces foods that are teeming with live probiotics. Probiotics are what we call ‘good’ bacteria and yeasts, the kind that form part of the gut microbiome and do all the jobs we mentioned earlier.
For example, one of the probiotics in kombucha is a group of bacteria called Acetobacter— these are good bacteria that produce acetic acid in your stomach, which is super important for digestion. Other yeast and bacteria commonly found in kombucha include Saccharomyces Cerevisiae var Boulardii and Gluconacetobacter.
So when we eat and drink fermented foods, we are feeding our gut microbiome with more good bacteria and yeasts. This can be really useful for rebalancing your gut microbiome if it’s gone a bit out of whack, and for generally supporting a healthy gut.
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Sources and Further Reading:
https://www.hollandandbarrett.com/the-health-hub/conditions/digestive-health/fermentation-secret-good-gut-health/ https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1541-4337.12073 https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/gut-microbiome-and-health https://foodandmoodcentre.com.au/2016/07/what-is-the-gut-microbiome/ https://covid.joinzoe.com/post/gut-health-immunity-covid#:~:text=The%20interaction%20between%20your%20microbiome,to%20control%20your%20immune%20system. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3337124/ https://medicalxpress.com/news/2018-03-gut-bacteria-essential-healthy-immune.html https://www.everydayhealth.com/digestive-health/signs-of-unhealthy-gut-and-how-to-fix-it/ https://med.nyu.edu/medicine/gastro/about-us/Gastroenterology-news-archive/your-gut-feeling-healthier-digestive-system-means-healthier#:~:text=The%20gastrointestinal%20system%2C%20also%20referred,intestine%2C%20colon%2C%20and%20rectum. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6306734/ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24290641/