The Link Between Your Immune System and IBS

January 03, 2022

The Link Between Your Immune System and IBS

In This Article

  • Common Digestive Conditions
  • What is Irritible Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Immunity & Healthy Digestion
  • Supplements to Boost Immune Health

IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a prevalent, chronic condition that affects up to 1 in 5 people in the United States. People with IBS are often very cautious about the foods they consume in an effort to keep their symptoms at bay. Recent studies show that the immune system may have the most significant influence over IBS symptoms, perhaps even more than diet. In this blog, we'll break down the condition of irritable bowel syndrome and how it relates to your immune system.

Digestive Health & Common Issues

For many of us, one of our favorite activities is enjoying meals with others, so experiencing bowel disorders can take a toll on our emotional, social, and physical well-being.

Digestive health issues have a tremendous ripple effect on our bodies and health, since we're dependent on proper digestion to break down, absorb, and utilize the food we eat. And we also need to effectively eliminate what we don't need from our digestive tract!

According to the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG), some of the GI symptoms with highest prevalence include:

  • Heartburn
  • Indigestion/dyspepsia
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain and cramping

Unfortunately, these common symptoms are easy to misinterpret and misunderstand, and may be an indication of more serious gastrointestinal disorders.

Functional bowel disorders is the general term describing problems with how the stomach and bowels function. Two of the most common disorders are:

  • Functional dyspepsia: also called "non-ulcer dyspepsia" or "nervous stomach"; symptoms of this condition include stomach pain, bloating, nausea, and a full feeling that doesn't improve after going to the bathroom.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): includes symptoms of bloating, diarrhea, and/or constipation that may or may not improve after going to the bathroom.

Although IBS and IBD have overlapping factors, they are diagnosed as separate conditions. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) includes chronic conditions like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Other digestive problems may stem from a specific food allergy or celiac disease.

The Current Opinion in Gastroenterology defines IBD as an organic disease, while IBS is a disorder of gut function driven by mood.

Another way of saying this is that IBS is a functional disease, where the contents of your large intestine are not moving through properly, and IBD is a structural disease with damage to the layers of the intestinal tract.

Overview of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)

IBS may affect up to 20% of Americans. Unfortunately, there is no way to cure this condition, and doctors cannot diagnose it from x-rays or blood tests. After ruling out other potential health issues, medical professionals diagnose IBS based on symptoms, including:

  • abdominal pain (usually in the lower abdomen)
  • bloating
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • inability to move the bowels or incomplete bowel movements

Subgroups of IBS are classified as IBS-D (diarrhea predominant irritable bowel syndrome), IBS-C when constipation is dominant, or mixed bowel habits. Risk factors for IBS include people under the age of 50, female gender, family history, and mental or emotional troubles.

Therapies for IBS cannot completely eliminate the condition, but they can help control and alleviate the symptoms. Some standard IBS treatment options include:

  • Lifestyle changes aimed at decreasing stress, such as moderate exercise and improved sleep habits.
  • Physical therapy or biofeedback training to help retrain pelvic floor and anal sphincter muscles.
  • Dietary adjustments to identify and avoid potential irritants like gluten, dairy, carbonated drinks, fried foods and processed foods.

Natural remedies for gut health and IBS could help improve quality of life and should certainly be considered.

The Importance of a Healthy Immune System

The immune system is a complex system of biological structures and processes protecting your body from invaders. Although the term "inflammation" gets a bad rap, it's a vital response to protect your body from pathogens and fight infection.

When the body encounters foreign cells like viruses, bacteria, fungi, or other pathogens, immune activation causes a rapid increase in the number and activity of immune cells. Your body's immune defense includes:

  • Physical barriers like skin and mucous membranes
  • Phagocytes like neutrophils and macrophages
  • Natural killer cells that release cytokines and regulate immune responses
  • Mast cells that release histamine to dilate blood vessels
  • Activation of t-cells that bind to antigens

Immune-Boosting Supplements

Nutrition, exercise, sleep, and lifestyle habits all affect your immune system. In addition to eating nutrient-rich foods, supplements can improve your body’s natural immune mechanisms and support overall health.

Collagen

Collagen contains amino acids that help strengthen connective tissue, improve sleep, and promote gut health–all essential in boosting immunity. When choosing a collagen supplement, make sure it’s a clean source without additives and sustainably sourced like the Amandean wild-caught marine collagen and grass-fed, pasture-raised collagen peptides.

The Link Between Your Immune System and IBS

Zinc

The mineral zinc is often prescribed as a cold remedy. Zinc may help with infections, wound healing, and health conditions from ulcers to rheumatoid arthritis. The recommended daily dosage of zinc is 8 mg for women and 11mg for men.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are known for improving cardiovascular health long-term, but also affect inflammation and auto-immunity markers. Decreasing inflammation is vital for a strong immune system. Check out vegan omega-3 supplements with EPA and DHA for best results.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an essential vitamin, meaning it must be consumed in your diet because the body cannot make it. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and aids in reducing oxidative stress and fighting pathogens. Liquid liposomal vitamin C has maximum bioavailability and is better absorbed than regular vitamin C.

Elderberry

Elderberry has been used for years in traditional medicine for treating sickness and disease. Research has found that elderberry contain powerful antioxidant properties that can stimulate the immune system. Elderberry can be taken in a syrup, supplement gummy, or as a tea.

The Link Between Digestive Health, IBS, and Immunity

Now let's turn the focus to how IBS and your GI tract are linked to your body's immune system. One of the primary ways pathogens enter your body is through your nose and mouth, which often means they end up in your GI tract. Your gut microbiome is made up of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. While some might be harmful, others are essential for your health.

Your gut, including the small intestine, is lined with epithelial cells and mucosa as the first line of defense against pathogens. Ideally, the endothelial cells within the gut lining allow nutrients to pass through the intestinal barrier to be absorbed into the bloodstream, but prevent antigens and harmful bacteria from crossing the barrier.

Sometimes, barrier function is impaired, a condition known as leaky gut. This dysfunction in permeability can result in unwanted substances entering the blood stream.

Researchers now realize that endothelial cells, a type of stomal cell, have significant interactions with immune cells, which impacts inflammation. Evidence also suggests that mucosal inflammation is common in IBS patients and can lead to chronic inflammation, altered microbiome diversity, and visceral hypersensitivity.

Researchers at Adelaide Medical School found a link between patients with diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS-D)and exhaustion in their T-cells. The study followed patients for one year and compared blood samples when they were experiencing IBS symptoms and symptom-free. Results showed immune cells that were less responsive to stimulation and had decreased secretion of mediators. This response is similar to what's observed in chronic infections.

The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders has noted evidence that:

  • Antibiotic use may alter the gut microbiota and predispose individuals to IBS
  • Abnormal interaction with bacteria in the gut may result in low-grade inflammation in IBS patients
  • IBS may develop following stomach or intestinal infection caused by bacteria, known as post-infectious IBS
  • Probiotics may improve symptoms for IBS patients.

You may have heard about the "gut-brain" axis. This describes the bi-directional communication between your central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) and the enteric nervous system (the gastrointestinal tract).

As researchers continue to study these complex communications and interactions, we'll have a better idea of how to treat conditions like IBS, which have both a physical and mental or stress-related component.

Key Takeaways:

IBS is linked to overall digestive health, inflammation, and immune response. Taking measures to reduce inflammation and maintain a robust immune system could help improve IBS symptoms. Remember that taking supplements like liposomal-C, vegan omega-3, and collagen peptides can help you boost your immune system.*

- Stephanie Hodges, MS in Nutrition and Exercise Science

Summary Points

  • IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome affects up to 1 in 5 Americans
  • Functional bowel disorders is the general term describing problems with how the stomach and bowels function
  • IBS is a functional disease, where the contents of your large intestine are not moving through properly
  • Therapies for IBS cannot completely eliminate the condition, but they can help control and alleviate the symptoms
  • IBS and your GI tract are linked to your body's immune system. One of the primary ways pathogens enter your body is through your nose and mouth, which often means they end up in your GI tract.

Article References

  1. Common GI Disorders. https://gi.org/topics/common-gi-symptoms/
  2. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Functional Bowel Disorders. https://www.uofmhealth.org/conditions-treatments/digestive-and-liver-health/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs-and-functional-bowel-disorders
  3. Inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome similarities and differences. https://journals.lww.com/co-gastroenterology/Abstract/2014/07000/Inflammatory_bowel_disease_and_irritable_bowel.4.aspx
  4. Overview of the Immune System. (2021, January 3). https://bio.libretexts.org/@go/page/11705
  5. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements improve the cardiovascular risk profile of subjects with metabolic syndrome, including markers of inflammation and auto-immunity. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.2143/AC.64.3.2038016
  6. Advanced research on the antioxidant and health benefit of elderberry (Sambucus nigra) in food – a review. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464614002400
  7. Gut endothelial cells — another line of defense. https://www.nature.com/articles/nrgastro.2015.205
  8. Endothelial cells: From innocent bystanders to active participants in immune responses. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1568997217301799
  9. The role of inflammation in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6159811/
  10. Exhausted immune cells linked to irritable bowel syndrome. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170620122901.htm
  11. Gut Bacteria and IBS. https://aboutibs.org/what-is-ibs/gut-bacteria-and-ibs/




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