As you read this, new and more powerful mutant cold and flu bugs are heading for your immune system. Your kids will probably be infected first and regardless what you do, the superbug will eventually strike each member of your family. In spite of our many pills and herbal supplements, it seems that we must endure the time it takes for our immune system to create enough antibodies to destroy the enemy. Prevention, of course, is the ideal approach, but if we are tired and debilitated from days and nights of taking care of sick kids, our system will be able to muster little resistance and almost certainly, we will be next to succumb.
There are always some people who are more susceptible to infection than others, and everyone seems to have a friend who brags, “Oh, I never get sick.” And annoyingly, they don’t. Studies reveal that people who resist viral infections have an entirely different set of genes turned on.
So, what can we do to strengthen our immune system? According to two great health traditions, Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine, our digestion and our gut play leading roles in our immunity or lack of it. Ayurveda speaks with respect about a substance called Ojas, the finest product of digestion, and we learn that only a perfectly healthy digestive system is able to create Ojas. The more Ojas we have, the stronger our immune system, and the less chance of catching the flu or any other illness.
Not that long ago, most doctors would have insisted that there was no scientific basis for the concept for the Ojas. Now, numerous published papers on the microbiome describe the disruption of the gut (dysbiosis) as the cause of a long list of diseases, including autoimmune disease. A disrupted or “leaky gut,” allows undigested food and bacterial particles to enter our bloodstream and trigger the immune system. This creates a chain reaction, which causes an inflammatory state that can result in major disorders like heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Since 80% of our immune system is located in our gut, we can understand why a chronically inflamed gut could very well be the source of many health problems.
Research explains that our gut bacteria produce chemicals that can actually regulate our immune system. The gut bacteria produce a group of substances called short-chained fatty acids or SCFAs. Butyric acid, one of the most prominent SCFAs, provides our colon cells with energy, and is not only involved with the regulation of our immune system, it is also capable of turning our genes on and off.
Could butyric acid be Ojas? There is no way of knowing, but its widespread effects include optimizing the structure of the blood brain barrier so that fewer harmful bacteria get in.
Another candidate for Ojas is the neurotransmitter serotonin, a key regulator of mood, sleep, appetite, and other brain functions. This is only one part of the story: our gut produces 90% of all our serotonin, although most of this does not enter the brain because of the blood brain barrier. The serotonin circulates throughout our bloodstream and influences our heart rate, blood clotting, intestinal motility, as well as the cell growth of liver cells, bone, pulmonary arteries, heart, brain, and mammary glands. The microbiome can influence serotonin production in the gut lining.
Recent findings show that serotonin also plays a role in regulating our immune system. Serotonin affects allergic asthma, gut inflammation, autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, and neurological disorders such as autism and ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease).
It is certain that the search for Ojas will continue, and it is certain that our gut affects our immune system. Taking steps to improve our gut can significantly improve the strength of our immune system, our overall health, and the wellbeing of our body and mind.
Here are some recommendations:
- Take the online YOUR HEALTHY GUT Course at Maharishi University of Management.
- Take a probiotic (see Doc Gut Probiotic Rating Chart)
- Discover your Gut/Brain Nature and find out which diet is best for you
- Corrêa, RO, et al., Regulation of immune cell function by short-chain fatty acids. Clinical & Translational Immunology 2016; 5, e73
- Herr, N et al., The Effects of Serotonin in Immune Cells. Cardiovasc. Med., 20 July 2017
- Gut Crisis: How Diet, Probiotics, and Friendly Bacteria Help You Lose Weight and Heal Your Body and Mind by Robert Keith Wallace, PhD and Samantha Wallace, Dharma Publications, 2017
- Transcendental Meditation: A Scientist’s Journey to Happiness, Health, and Peace, Adapted and Updated from The Physiology of Consciousness: Part I by Robert Keith Wallace, PhD, Dharma Publications, 2016