Gut health and immune function

 

 This month we will delve into gut health and immune function.

 
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The gut is one (if not THE MOST) important areas to focus on for optimal health and performance. If you ave worked with us one on one then you know how much we focus on getting this area right! 

See the gut influences every other key area of nutrition. Some key points of the gut are 

  • Over 70% of our immune system is produced in the gut

  • Almost all neurotransmitters are produced in the gut

  • It is where we digest and assimilate food!

  • New research suggests that the gut microbiome may also affect the central nervous system, which controls brain function.

Now this is just scratching the surface. What we are going to do is provide some info for you and get you to follow our gut healing protocol over the month! We use this protocol with a number of clients and with athletes - especially during intense periods of competition. 

So let's dive straight in!

+ Week 1 - All about gut health & our protocol

'Gut health' is a term increasingly used in the medical literature and by practitioners. It covers multiple positive aspects of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, such as the effective digestion and absorption of food, the absence of GI illness, normal and stable intestinal microbiota, effective immune status and a state of well-being.

We have seen a rise in the number of people who experience "bloating" or "digestive discomfort" after eating certain foods or meals. This reaction is down to a number of different reasons which will we will cover. A trip to your doctor might end with a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), leaky gut (LG), celiac disease, food sensitivities, bacterial imbalances – or no specific diagnosis at all, since symptoms often overlap and it can be tricky to untangle the root causes of digestive disorders.

If you have experienced these issues then this is where we sort that out! It shouldn't be something we just have to accept. 

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The hard-working gut is a selective barrier between “us” and the outside world. But a distressed gut can’t act in our defense. Instead, it allows dangerous compounds to enter the body.

That’s where nutrition can come in. The right diet strengthens the gut in its guardian role, improving overall health and well-being.

Factors affecting gut health

We will be showing you the stuff that we need to add to your nutrition plan but identifying areas that can contribute to poor gut health is essential.

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  • Antibiotics

  • Long erm term anti inflammatory medication use

  • Previous bouts of food poisoning

  • Poor quality processed food

  • Stress (exercise, life, kids, 😉)

  • Excess food

  • Sugar

  • Alcohol

  • Toxins

  • Food sensitivities

  • Allergies

As you can see in the diagram (and in the download) these breakdown the inner lining of the gut. This leads to inflammation (not the good kind) and causes issues such as - 

  • Bloating

  • Food sensitivities

  • Fatigue

  • Joint pain

  • Headaches

  • Skin issues like rosacea and acne

  • Weight gain

Foods for gut health

We always get asked which foods should you eat for this or that. Almost all food lists contain the same bloody foods!!

Yes there are some foods that help - but you may find they don't work for you. So as always - eat as close to nature as possible, nutrient dense in the right amounts. There are some foods in the PDF that we ask you to sneak in after the first few weeks.

But if you are following our principles and food guide you will be fine. 

Foods to remove? 

This is probably where we will see the most improvement. Removing foods that are full of refined sugar, oils, are deep fried and have excess of fats and carbs in the same product (croissants, doughnuts etc) will really help. There are more and more bars and "healthy alternatives" popping up now with things such as sugar alcohols, fibre supplements etc etc. Be wary of using these even if they "fit your macros".

One ingredient foods. As close to nature as possible.


TASK FOR THIS WEEK

Download our gut healing protocol and read through it. Read phase 1, make a copy of the food table and order some of the supplements. Then start to make some changes to your diet. Be aware of any foods that cause a reaction and start to note them down.



+ Week 2 - Food intolerances and sensitivies

What is the difference between a food intolerance and a food allergy? A food intolerance can cause some of the same signs and symptoms as a food allergy, so people often confuse the two.

A true food allergy causes an immune system reaction that affects numerous organs in the body. It can cause a range of symptoms. In some cases, an allergic food reaction can be severe or life-threatening. In contrast, food intolerance symptoms are generally less serious and often limited to digestive problems.

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When you have a food intolerance, symptoms usually begin within a few hours of eating the food that you are intolerant to.

Yet, symptoms can be delayed by up to 48 hours and last for hours or even days, making the offending food especially difficult to pinpoint.

As we don't often eat single foods it can be difficult to say for certain which food in a meal is causing issues. (We ave a method to help you identify this 😊).

While symptoms of food intolerances vary, they most often involve the digestive system, skin and respiratory system.  Common symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea

  • Bloating

  • Rashes

  • Headaches

  • Nausea

  • Fatigue

  • Abdominal pain

  • Runny nose

  • Reflux

  • Flushing of the skin

Which foods cause these reactions is personal to you. Foods that are healthful for some people might not be healthful for you. Four common offenders:

  • Lectins: particular types of proteins. The most irritating type is found in seeds such as grains, beans/legumes, and nuts.

  • Gluten and other similar prolamine proteins (such as hordein in barley, secalin in rye, or zein in corn), found in grains.

  • Casein, lactose, and other immunoglobulins in dairy.

  • Fructose, aka fruit sugar. People who struggle to digest fructose also often have trouble with other complex carbohydrates known as FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols).

For some, these compounds can mimic a food allergy and increase intestinal permeability and inflammation. Or they can mimic symptoms of respiratory allergies, such as sneezing, sniffles, and throat irritation.

For others, these foods stimulate an immune system T-cell response and create or exacerbate autoimmune symptoms such as joint pain or skin rashes (particularly eczema).

Other people simply lack the appropriate digestive enzymes to process one or more of these compounds. In this case, you might just get a general stomach upset, gas and bloating, nausea, and constipation or diarrhea.

We work with a crossfit coach who as been vegetarian his whole life and vegan for 7 years. He eats on average 400g of carbs a day. His digestive system is used to this, it as the correct enzymes to be able to process it.

Interestingly, some of the foods that contain these compounds can have addictive properties, creating an immediate feeling of well-being.  So, while your gut might not be suited to digest casein, right after you drink milk you get a rush of “feel good time”, only to soon be reminded of the gut upset that follows.

When we work with clients and they react to a lot of foods and get constant bloating it is an indication of overall poor gut health. If there is a specific reaction then there may be a sensitivity. 


How do we deal with food intolerances and sensitivities?

Elimination diets are a popular way to identify and remove the trigger food. However in our opinion they can be long winded and very restrictive. 

Food intolerance tersting is an option. Please don't use the £30 tests you can buy online! They are very unreliable. We use a company called Lorisian.

WHY LORISIAN?

Lorisian are the leading provider of intolerance testing. We are registered practitioners which enables us to to provide the tests with in depth analysis. You cannot just order these online by yourself. Check out the tests we offer below. 

If you do not want to perform testing we have a simple system to help identify trigger foods. It is a food table you complete when you get a reaction. Highlight all the foods in a meal you just ate in red when you get a reaction. Each time you get a reaction you will go into your table and highlight the food again. You will start to see a common pattern that, for example, coffee is also getting highlighted. WHAT??!?!? I have to remove coffee?! Yep trial removing the offender and see how you feel.


TASK FOR THIS WEEK

Keep following the gut healing protocol. If you are interested in testing then contact us or click the link below to find out more and order.

A really good book is Gut. It is so well written with awesome drawings and gives an incredible insight into how important the gut is! 


RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

DOWNLOADS


+ Week 3 - Immune function

In this section we are going to outline the importance of the immune system with some easy to implement tips. It is one of the most complex systems with sooooo many scientific words such as leukocytes, macrophages and antigens. What we need to do is make things as simple as possible. Great thing is you are already doing some of the best things for your immune system by focusing on gut health and nourishing your body with all the great food we have been eating!

The immune system is made up of special network of cells, proteins, tissues, and organs that defend us against germs and microorganisms every day. It is often an area that is overlooked in terms of performance and health. You cannot train when you are ill or under the weather! Nutrition plays a crucial role in supporting immune health. 

Innate and adaptive immune systems 

The immune system is split into two categories. The innate system and the adaptive system.

The innate immune system is the first responder and is something already present in us. The innate (meaning: “present from birth”) part of the immune system is so-called because it has a number of set strategies for recognising and dealing with foreign substances without needing to be “trained” to identify them. This is the attack part of the immune system that is always on alert. It is very powerful and quick to act on invaders. 

The innate defence consists of several elements:

  • The skin and all mucous membranes in the body openings, which form external barriers (the inner lining of the gut).

  • Different defence cells from the white blood cell group (leukocytes).

  • Various substances in the blood and in body fluids.

If the body’s first line of defence – the innate immune system – is unsuccessful in destroying the pathogens, after about four to seven days the specific adaptive immune response sets in. This means that the adaptive defence takes longer, but it targets the pathogen more accurately. Once it has learned, however, it is extremely specific, effective and is able to remember particular germs that have previously infected the body, so that if or when they try to infect the body again, the next response is rapid, accurate and effective. 

Another advantage: It can remember the aggressor and acts specifically against certain antigens. If there is new contact with an antigen that is already known, the defence response can then be quicker. This way the defence responses of the adaptive immune system are more efficient and faster than those of the innate defence, if the antigen is already known.

The adaptive immune system can remember the antigens because it produces memory cells. This is also the reason why there are some illnesses you can only get once in your life, because afterwards your body becomes “immune.” 

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Infographic

The immune system is so complex. Making it simple is what we like to do. Here is a great infographic that gives an overview of the immune system.


Exercise and the immune system

The effects of exercise express characteristics of the phenomena hormesis. Hormesis is a dose-dependent relationship in which a low dose of a substance is stimulatory and high dose is inhibitory. The hormetic effects of exercise on immune function are well documented. Moderate exercise has been reported to produce an anti-inflammatory environment and thus reduce the risk of infection. Conversely, continuous, intense exercise may increase oxidative stress (an overproduction of reactive oxygen species compared to the body’s ability to detoxify), inflammatory responses, as well as the risk for infection. Research has described this relationship as the “J” curve in which the risk of illness may decrease below that of a sedentary person, but risk will most likely rise with excessive high-intensity exercise. If the intense exercise continues for an extended period, it can result in physiological, psychological, biochemical, and immunological disturbances; including a persistent change in mood, performance decrements, and increased susceptibility to infection. In short, this relationship follows the pattern demonstrated in the development of most training adaptations:

You must recover as hard as your train.

Because many nutrients are involved in energy metabolism and protein synthesis, the balance between pro and anti-inflammatory cytokines is crucial in maintaining proper immune function. The recovery, digestion and sleep sections will all help support immune function.

The simplest way to ensure you are supporting your immune system is through quality nutrition. There are specific times of the year that we will focus on immune function with our clients. The few weeks around the start of the school year is an area of focus as well as the christmas period. If you are training for a specific event it is crucial that you follow some of the advice in the weeks leading up to competition day.

FACTORS YOU CAN CONTROL THAT AFFECT IMMUNITY

  • The balance between nutrient rich foods and inflammatory foods you consume. Nourish your body with every meal.

  • Reducing stress wherever possible - The stress response suppresses the immune system, increasing our susceptibility to colds and other illnesses. Stress comes in all shapes and forms and there is no definitive guide to reducing stress but this article (20 SIMPLE STRESS RELEASE TECHNIQUES) has a few greats tips thrown in that may help you to de-stress along with creating your new nutrition habits outlined in this guide.

  • Getting adequate sleep. Sleep deprivation can suppress the immune system. 

  • Wash your hands - it is important that you regularly wash your hands especially after using the bathroom, using public transport and eating out. Always carry hand sanitizer - when it is not possible to wash your hands then hand sanitizer is the second best solution. Use a sanitizer that is +50% alcohol as the alcohol will kill many types of bacteria and viruses.

  • Don’t share water bottles - this one should be pretty self explanatory.

  • Always wash your tupperware and water bottles - try to wash these on the same day as you used them to avoid bacteria increasing and spreading.

  • Eat the seasons. Food that is in season can really help boost the immune system.


TASK FOR THIS WEEK

Download the foods for immune health and start to incorporate in your diet. If you really struggle with overall immunity then stock up on the supplements. Some of which you will be taking with the gut taking protocol anyways.  


DOWNLOADS


+ Week 4 - Bit of science and reviewing progress

Now we are a few weeks into our gut healing protocol it is time to review.

Have you identified any trigger foods and started to remove them? If so how easy as this been? Using the guides we provided in week 2 will help. Now ask yourself these questions - 

  • Have you felt less bloated?

  • Have you felt "lighter"?

  • Felt like your recovery from exercise has improved?

 These are common improvements we see with clients following this. If you haven't experienced it then don't worry, it will come! It is a process that you need to follow and be consistent with. Any queries you have put them on the Facebook group or contact us via the form on the homepage.


The gut brain axis

Although we are all familiar with the sayings ‘trust your gut’, feeling ‘butterflies in your stomach’ and going through a ‘gut-wrenching experience’, many of us are unaware that these sensations are the result of a network of millions of neurons that line our guts, a network so extensive that scientists have nicknamed it our "second brain". 

The gastrointestinal (GI) system has its own nervous system, the enteric nervous system (ENS). The ENS is a mesh-like structure of neural tissue that does much more than just handle digestion or inflict the occasional nervous pang. It controls local blood flow, mucosal secretion and transport as well as modulating the function of our immune and endocrine systems.

How does our gut communicate with our brain? 

The 2 organs are connected physically and biochemically. The vagus nerve is the longest of the cranial nerves and physically unites the gut and brain. This nerve oversees a vast array of important bodily functions, including digestion, heart rate, immune response and mood. The gut is able to produce chemical messengers such as the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is best known as the “feel-good” neurotransmitter; in order to be able to communicate with the brain biochemically.

The gut-brain axis (GBA) is a bidirectional link between the central nervous system (CNS) and the enteric nervous system (ENS) of the body. It involves direct and indirect pathways between cognitive and emotional centres in the brain with peripheral intestinal functions. The GBA involves complex links between the endocrine (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) and the immune (cytokine and chemokines) systems.

The HPA axis meanwhile coordinates adaptive responses against stress including activation of memory and emotional centres in the limbic system of the brain.

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The neuro-immuno-endocrine mediators of the GBA allow the brain to influence intestinal function (immune cells, epithelial cells, enteric neurons, and smooth muscle cells). 

Bacteria also play a role in the gut-brain connection. Bacteria live throughout our bodies, and while many bacteria we encounter are associated with disease, the ‘good’ bacteria in our guts have a huge impact on our health and wellbeing. They are able to synthesise various neurotransmitters and vitamin K as well as modulating normal immune responses by protecting us against harmful bacteria.

Scientists are only just beginning to understand the importance of the gut to our overall health and wellbeing, including our mental health. 

Bottom line

We just wanted to make you aware that the gut plays a role in more than just digestion. It as a huge influence on our cognitive, adrenal and immune function. The bottom line always comes back to eating the least processed, whole foods in the right amounts at the right times. 

Nutrition and these key areas can get overwhelming so this is wy we put these practical guides together. Keeping it simple :)


TASKS FOR THIS WEEK & ONGOING

Progress through the gut healing protocol. You should be moving into phase 2 now. Be aware of how foods are making you feel. Be consistent with the protocol. Keep us posted on the group! We will be revisiting this subject again and again.


What should I do with my calories and macros?

We are now 4 months in. We should of found a structure that works for us. We want to focus on key areas that will help your health and performance. If we keep changing calories and macros it can become too stressful. 

Follow whichever month you felt best with. Where did you make the most progress? Use this month as your structure for the month. Then really focus on nailing these key areas of recovery, gut health and immune function. 

 
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