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Can we protect our immune system from the outside in?
By building a more robust interior environment, we can protect ourselves against the harsh exterior environment.
According to Ayurveda, 85 percent of disease starts with digestion. This hypothesis has been backed up by the discovery of the gut microbiome and the role beneficial bacteria have on at least 70 percent of our gut immunity.
Upon deeper inspection, both digestive health and gut immunity depend on the health of the skin or epithelial lining of the digestive tract.
If the intestinal lining breaks down, immunity, digestion, and much more break down, too.
For decades, Western medicine considered the respiratory tract sterile from any beneficial bacteria, its immune response dependent solely on a cellular immune response. Now, it is known that much of the body’s respiratory immunity is dependent on its newly discovered microbiome. The microbiome—or beneficial bacterial in the lungs—provide much of the lungs’ immune response.
Even more exciting is that new research has linked respiratory microbiome health to intestinal microbiome health. In other words, gut and respiratory immunity depend on both microbiomes. And their microbiomes depend on the health and integrity of the epithelium lining them.
The epithelial lining of the intestines and respiratory tracts are known as your immunity barriers.
The Intestinal Barrier
The largest barrier in our body, covering the entire digestive tract (which, if stretched out, would be roughly the size of a tennis court) governs 70 to 80 percent of the body’s immune system. The intestinal lining is made up of epithelium (inner skin), blood vessels, lymph-collecting ducts, immune cells, and beneficial microbes. The function of all of these depends on the health and integrity of this barrier.
Weak digestion can be caused by stress, processed foods, toxic cooking oils, pesticide-laden comfort foods, or extreme diets.
These digestive stressors allow certain proteins and fats to go undigested into the intestines. Undigested proteins and fats are too big to be absorbed into the bloodstream, so they end up caught in lymph-collecting ducts. Here, they can overwhelm and congest a major player in the body’s lymphatic system, called gut–associated immune tissue (GALT), which compromises 70 percent of the body’s overall immune system.
A healthy immune response starts at the junction between the intestinal epithelial and lymphatic vessels (or GALT). Breakdown here can weaken the intestinal barriers tight protein junctions, overwhelming the GALT and the body’s immune response.
In time, toxins, undesirable microbes, and undigested fats and proteins can enter the blood via lymph. GALT congestion, often called leaky gut syndrome, will progressively congest respiratory–associated lymph tissue (RALT) and compromise both gut and respiratory immunity.
The Respiratory Barrier
The average person breathes 29,000 times a day. The quality of air you breathe is of great importance. According to the EPA, more than 70 million tons of pollutants were dumped into the atmosphere in 2019 in the United States.
A new study finds an abundance of inhaled microscopic magnetite particles in samples of brain tissue from people in cities with high levels of air pollution. Magnetite is the highly oxidative, degenerative, and magnetic form of iron oxide.
Magnetite particles have been directly linked to brain degeneration and cognitive decline. Abnormal accumulation of metals in the brain is a key marker for cognitive decline, making air pollution the new smoking gun for age-related cognitive issues.
The respiratory tract and lungs are lined with very delicate skin, or epithelium. Air pollution from cars, cigarettes, solvents, synthetic clothes, and fire retardants in furniture constantly bombard this respiratory barrier.
Poor digestive health and a broken down intestinal microbiome are linked to poor respiratory immunity as well.
Vitamin C and Quercetin for Barrier Protection
Foods rich in Vitamin C and quercetin, along with other agents can help protect the body’s respiratory and intestinal barriers.
Vitamin C to Support Immunity
Vitamin C has become a popular supplement for immune support. One of the main mechanisms for immunity is its ability to protect the epithelial barriers of the body, primarily in the intestinal and respiratory tracts.
Vitamin C also supports the immune system’s first responders, called neutrophils, to reach the site of an immune event and effectively engage in a healthy and balanced immune response. In one study, participants that had low vitamin C levels used vitamin C supplementation and increased neutrophil migration to the immune site by 20 percent.
Vitamin C is a naturally occurring free radical scavenger that protects the epithelial linings against free radicals. Free radicals are linked to epithelial barrier disruption, resulting in hypersensitivity to a variety of factors, from undigested proteins and fats to pollutants and pollens.
Vitamin C provides natural support for healthy respiratory and intestinal barriers, resulting in robust gut and respiratory immunity.
Quercetin to Support Immunity
Quercetin is an abundant flavonoid plant pigment found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, such as onions, apples, grapes, berries, broccoli, citrus fruits, and cherries, as well as green tea, coffee, red wine, and capers.
Quercetin’s health resumé is vast and well documented.
Quercetin has been found to support:
>> Athletic performance
>> Healthy and robust antioxidant response to stress and irritants
By way of supporting healthy circulation, quercetin has been shown to support healthy intestinal and respiratory barriers and protect them from irritants. Quercetin has also been shown to support a healthy respiratory immune response to an immune event at the sites of both respiratory and gut immunity. Quercetin has immune-moderating and antioxidant effects, including inhibition of mast-cell degranulation and prevention of histamine release during hypersensitive episodes.
What are you doing to support your gut and lung immunity barriers?