Hi everyone, Dr. Junger here.
Did you know that 80% of our immune system is located within the gut?
That’s why I place so much emphasis on gut repair. The healthier our gut is, the better our overall health will be.
So for part three of our journey through the gut system today, I’m going to focus on how we can support the extraordinary immune system that sits right behind our intestinal wall.
Here we go.
The Big Picture: Your immune system and the world
Big organisms like tigers and bears can kill us for dinner, but miniature or even microscopic organisms, such as viruses, parasites, and bacteria, can kill us just as readily. Big predators attack you from outside your body; microscopic ones kill you from the inside.
So it’s essential that your your body keeps harmful, foreign materials and organisms out. Last week, I explained how the first barrier that encounters anything foreign in the digestive tube is the intestinal wall.
In ideal circumstances, the intestinal wall cells would be enough to fend off everything that is not completely digested food.
But this is rarely the case today.
Since most of us are walking around with some degree of gut dysfunction, leaky gut or insufficient good bacteria, foreign material (such as toxic chemicals or incompletely digested food) or organisms can slip through.
When this foreign material does, the immune system known as the GALT is sitting right on the other side of your intestinal wall ready to act.
What is the GALT?
“GALT” stands for the “gut-associated lymphatic tissue”. It’s the gut’s immune system and it works to protect the body from invasion.
Your body’s immune system is in charge of detecting and destroying anything that comes into contact with your inside that is not recognized as simple nutrients or as a part of yourself.
Our powerful immune system has many different weapons at its disposal. You may have heard of some of these names before. Immunoglobulins, or antibodies, B cells, T cells, mast cells, phagocytes, and many others.
Many of these weapons are found in or stimulated by organized clumps of tissue with fancy names like Peyer’s patches, mesenteric lymph nodes, and isolated lymphoid follicles.
Even though the cells of the immune system are located and circulated throughout the body, eighty percent of the body’s weaponry are deployed in the gut, right next to the border with the most traffic: the intestinal wall.
In fact, the GALT makes up the largest part of the body’s entire immune system.
What does the GALT do?
Our immune system’s cells are constantly scanning the environment to detect organisms and molecules that are foreign and hostile. It accomplishes this by recognizing surfaces.
It helps to think of this system as similar to the scanning devices in stores. A simple scan of a tag will tell the retailer what a particular item is, how much it costs, and how many are left in stock.
Immune cells basically identify surfaces. Everything has a surface, whether it is your own cells, a micro-organism, or a piece of food. When your immune system scans the interior surfaces of your body, it compares each to a list of approved codes, the ones it classifies as “self.”
If the immune system detects a surface with a threatening code, an antigen, it releases weapons and recruits other immune-system cells to attack the foreign surface as a way to defend you and survive.
Immune System Confusion
When the intestinal flora and the intestinal wall deteriorate, the immune system in the gut is exposed to an unprecedented number of organisms, undigested foods, and toxic chemicals, all of whose surfaces the body identifies as foreign.
This security breach calls the gut’s immune system into action, immediately initiating a number of different responses. None of these responses are mistakes, but we experience them as such.
These apparent mistakes can present as a nonspecific symptom, such as fatigue, which is often tricky to track back to the root cause. This is especially true in the case of a hyperactive GALT.
If you were able to isolate all the cells of the GALT and bulk them together, they would produce a mass larger than one of your quadriceps, the biggest muscles in your body.
Imagine how exhausted you would feel if you had a disease that forced your quads to constantly contract. It would be easy to make the connection between a muscle at work and physical exhaustion. You would see and feel the muscle contract and relax, contract and relax.
When the GALT is in a constant state of attack—which is more or less the case for everyone today— it is much like having a quad muscle in constant motion. When the cells of the GALT launch attacks, they use up invaluable resources and energy, just as you would expect of a battalion at war.
A few of the common symptoms of an overactive GALT can be seasonal allergies, sneezing, mucus secretion, itchiness, coughing and exhaustion. These mechanisms are activated by the immune system in general to get rid of foreign invaders.
GALT and Trigger Foods
Some people have these same symptoms, but only when the GALT is triggered by certain foods. If the food in question triggers an immediate reaction, you may link it even with an itch or a cough.
But the GALT has delayed mechanisms as well, which means that the itching and sneezing may begin up to seventy-two hours after the food was consumed.
This why I recommend that everyone follows the reintroduction program after they do a Cleanse or a Gut Cleanse. The structure of the reintroduction program will help you look for the immediate and delayed reactions to foods over a 7-day period.
The GALT and Autoimmune Disorders
Autoimmune disorders are on the rise and are deeply connected to the gut. It’s a complex subject but I wanted to give some context for how the immune system plays a big role.
When an autoimmune disorder is at work, the mechanisms activated by the gut’s immune system end up in total confusion, creating the most baffling of biological betrayals. The immune system is literally confused about what is part of the body and what is foreign, and begins to attack its own cells.
This confusion tends to happen more often when the gut is “leaky” because the GALT is more often exposed to bacteria, pathogens, undigested food and trigger foods. That’s why leaky gut is a common trait of autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s, skin lesions, and hashimoto’s.
The type of autoimmune disease depends on what tissue, or what combination of organs, the immune system attacks. I always tell my patients it doesn’t really matter what type of autoimmune disorder you have. What matters is how—or why—the immune system got confused. This confusion almost always occurs in the same place: the gut.
Three ways to support the gut’s immune system
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been sharing ways to support and nourish each part of our gut system. Here are three ways to help support and reduce the work of the immune system:
1. Take Probiotics. Even when there is no threat of invasion, the intestinal flora remains hard at work, constantly stimulating the GALT. These good bacteria help keep the immune system in check and are important for absorption of nutrients and detoxification.
2. Discover your trigger foods. One of the major causes of an overactive GALT is the constant presence of trigger foods. Discovering which foods are causing reactions is a major health win. You can learn how to do this here.
3. Do the Clean Gut Cleanse. I come back to a gut repair program each week because it’s the best all around approach to supporting our gut health. It removes the items that are causing damage to our gut while utilizing many tools to repair it all at once. Many of these tools you can take from the program and build them into your life, increasing the ways you support your gut daily.
To your health,
Alejandro Junger M.D.