Body aches that feel like we're tearing our bodies apart; Feverish eyes that shy away from any source of light and a scratchy throat that makes even drinking tea a challenge – we all know the feeling of being sick. Our immune system is our invisible protector that protects us from these symptoms and many other diseases. But if this doesn't work and we get sick, we try to get well again with bed rest and medication: nasal sprays, paracetamol, hot lemon and chicken broth are among the usual aids to counteract an infection or flu.
We often neglect one of the most important parts of our immune system – our intestines. Almost everyone knows that they have an immune system, which is important because it protects us from or fights diseases. Many people do not yet know that the intestine is an essential part of our immune system and is essential in the prevention of illnesses and the body's own fight against illnesses. The immune system is still an abstract concept for many because it is not as easy to visualize or understand as, for example, an organ. Most recently, the microbiologist Giulia Enders also poetized about the importance of the intestines with her poetry slam “Intestine with Charm” and made the hero of our immune system heard.
In this article we would like to explain what our intestines have to do with our immune system, where it is located in the intestines and how we can support the immune system in our intestines.
What does the gut have to do with the immune system?
Before we clarify what exactly the intestines have to do with our immune system, we would like to briefly clarify what the immune system actually is.
Our immune system is our body's defense system and it fights harmful pathogens and cells so that we don't get sick but stay healthy.
The immune system is a complex network that consists of various players who act within it: several organs, numerous messenger substances and different cell types are part of our immune system, including our intestines.
Even though we were born with an intestine and could therefore count it as part of the non-specific (innate) immune system, the intestine-specific immune system is part of the specific (learned) immune system.
This is only developed and developed through external influences and through confrontation with our environment and its pathogens after birth and throughout life. When our intestines come into contact with a potential pathogen, such as a virus or bacteria, our body uses certain defense mechanisms to specifically ward off and fight the pathogen. Our immune system basically remembers the characteristics of the pathogen and can then fight it off even more efficiently when it comes into contact again.
For a long time, the intestine was only assigned the role of a digestive organ, but we now know that around 70 percent of our immune cells are located in the intestinal wall. The intestines have more immune cells than our skin and respiratory tract combined. If our intestines are weakened, our immune system is also weakened. People with autoimmune diseases therefore often also have chronic intestinal problems. In addition, our intestines are in constant contact with the brain via the gut-brain axis, which is why it is also referred to as our “second” brain.
For all of these reasons, the intestines are now considered the seat of health. The intestinal immune system even has its own name: GALT.
GALT – Gut-Associated Lymphoid Tissue
The GALT is now considered the main player in our immune system. The intestinal immune system can be divided into three barriers: the intestinal mucosa, the microbiome (“intestinal flora”), and the intestinal-associated immune system (GALT).
The so-called gut-associated lymphatic tissue is a secondary lymphatic organ that is attached to the intestinal system and leads to local immunity there. The GALT consists of the tonsils (tonsils), Peyer's patches and the intraepithelial lymphocytes. The GALT works closely with the microbiome (intestinal flora), which is why we would first like to focus on the intestinal bacteria before we take a closer look at how the GALT works.
Which intestinal bacteria for the immune system?
Bacteria in our intestines? That doesn't sound good, some people might think. However, the truth is that our intestinal flora, which consists of countless bacteria, trains our immune system and keeps it up to speed. But what is intestinal flora actually?
Our intestinal flora includes around 39 trillion intestinal bacteria, in which over 1000 different bacterial species have been detected. We find the highest density of bacteria in our large intestine. These bacteria break down fiber that is indigestible for us, they produce energy, fatty acids, gases and they produce certain vitamins. They also break down toxins and train our immune system. However, we not only have good and health-promoting bacteria in our intestines, but also “bad” bacteria, the putrefactive coliform bacteria. Coli bacteria are designed to break down proteins, producing toxic substances that are responsible for the rather unpleasant smell of feces. By the way: the less odorous your stool, urine and sweat are, the healthier and cleaner our digestion works.
Good bacteria for our intestines are, for example, the lactobacteria and bifidobacteria, which are the counterpart to the coli bacteria and keep our intestines in balance. Lactobacteria produce lactic acid, which ensures healthy intestinal flora and a more efficient supply of nutrients and vital substances.
Lactobacillus Plantarum, Bifidobacterium Lactis and Streptococcus Thermophilus are examples of good gut bacteria that boost the immune system and gut health.
Where is the immune system located in the intestine?
We have already learned that the immune system in the intestine is also called GALT and that GALT works closely with the intestinal flora. The complexity and major challenge for the GALT is not only to locate pathogens, viruses and bacteria after they have passed through the intestinal mucosa, but at the same time to recognize and allow the useful nutrients and microorganisms to pass through. But where is this GALT located in the body?
The gut-specific immune system is located in the intestinal mucosa. It works in harmony with our intestinal flora and the intestinal mucosa in a kind of lock system so that our intestines can fight off pathogens.
One can imagine that the intestinal flora is the “guardian” that decides which substances are allowed to pass through the lock.
These substances, approved by the intestinal flora, then reach the intestinal mucosa, which transports the substances through tight junctions into the intestinal mucosa, where they are further processed by the body.
This is where the GALT finally comes into play, which checks whether all substances, bacteria, etc. introduced are “good” and beneficial to health. If a virus or harmful bacterium still makes it here, the GALT removes it from circulation.
Build intestinal flora for a better immune system
If you want to strengthen and care for your gut and your gut-specific immune system, there are two strategies you can pursue. Either you directly consume good intestinal bacteria, i.e. probiotic bacterial cultures, or you feed the good bacteria in the intestine with fiber.
1. Probiotic bacterial cultures
It is recommended to consume lactic acid bacteria (probiotics) directly. This can be done, for example, with probiotic bacterial cultures such as Lactobacillus Plantarum, Bifidobacterium Lactis or Streptococcus Thermophilus, which are available in the form of capsules .
The probiotic Bifidobacterium Bifidum, for example, helps maintain healthy intestinal flora and strengthens resistance. The intact state of the intestinal microbiome has a positive influence on digestion, metabolism, body weight, immune system, appetite and general well-being.
With Swiss Immune® , we have developed one of the most powerful, natural Swiss raw materials, colostrum, to support the immune system. The antibodies (immunoglobulins) contained in colostrum and the numerous other nutritional values support both our specific and non-specific immune systems throughout our lives.
With age, the efficiency of our immune system decreases and will therefore gratefully accept a supply of immunoglobulins and other valuable nutrients. Especially in stressful times or after illness, adjusting our diet and taking additional immunoglobulins through colostrum can help us achieve general well-being.
2. Feed good gut bacteria
Our good intestinal bacteria love soluble fiber, such as that found in porridge . By the way, warm and fiber-rich meals, such as porridge, relieve the strain on the immune system because the energy can be used more efficiently because the meal has been pre-digested by the heat, so to speak.
The health-promoting intestinal inhabitants feed on these fibers and can multiply, which has a beneficial effect on our intestinal flora and therefore also has a positive effect on our immune system. Boiled, cold potatoes also offer our intestinal bacteria an excellent meal to strengthen them and support them in their reproduction.