6 Tips for a Healthy Digestive and Immune System

Our digestive tract is a crucial part of staying well; 70 percent of our immune system as a whole resides in our gut. Keeping a healthy digestive system running smoothly will do more than keep us regular and feeling good, it will help keep us from getting sick.

Posted by Andrea

Research has shown that our digestive system is important for more than just breaking apart our food and absorbing nutrients. It also works hard to keep us from getting ill. Our bodies are teeming with beneficial microbes and 100 trillion of them are in our digestive track. Co-existing with those microbes are just as many immune cells—our first defense against bad bacteria and pathogens that enter our bodies.

6 Tips for a Healthy Digestive System to Support Immune System Health

Needless to say, what we put IN our bodies will affect our digestive system. Understanding how different foods, medicines, or even personal cleaning products effect our digestive lining is extremely important. Some good habits are obvious; eat a healthy diet, make sure you move your body and strengthen it, and keep your stress as low as possible. Other tips for improving digestive and immune system health (and keeping it that way) are not as obvious. Here are a few important tips; some of them may surprise you.

Take Probiotics

Keeping a steady supply of probiotics coming into your gut is one of the best ways to keep it healthy. While many people take probiotic supplements, I find it much easier and more affordable to eat probiotic-rich food every day. I ferment many types of vegetables with my Fermentools and snack on the finished ferments. It only takes a few bites a day to help, because fermented foods just explode with probiotic activity.

Use Antibiotics Judiciously

There is no doubt about it; antibiotics are a modern marvel and help us kick some pretty nasty infections. However, they have become alarmingly overused. With overuse, antibiotics become less effective; the bad bacteria that cause infections learn to adapt. Not only that, antibiotics are not choosy about what bacteria they kill, so they can decimate the population of good probiotics in your intestines. Taking antibiotics only when absolutely needed prevents the good gut flora from being severely compromised.

Eat Plenty of Fresh Vegetables and Fruit

Fresh veggies and fruits are ‘prebiotics’. Prebiotics are foods that contain the soluble fibers and food compounds that the good bacteria in your intestine need. In other words, as you send in reinforcements of PRObiotics, make sure you are keeping them happily fed with PREbiotics. This will ensure they live longer and are more effective at helping reinforce the immune cells.

Avoid Acid-blocking Drugs

There is a wide variety of prescription and over-the-counter drugs for people who suffer from acid-reflux and heartburn, but like antibiotics, they can be overused. Sometimes, small changes in diet and lifestyle will treat acid ailments , but our culture has become quick to prescribe a pill for every problem. Oftentimes acid reflux and heartburn is not caused by too much acid, but by the acid being in the wrong place. Adding another chemical to the body to try to combat a physical issue might be doing more harm to your digestive system and overall body health than good, so seek out natural solutions to your heartburn and acid-reflux before turning to medications.

Use Pain Medication Sparingly

Avoid opiates whenever possible; i.e. percocet, vicodin, and hydrocodone. Sometimes, you need a painkiller—after surgery, for example—but sometimes, you really don’t. Opiates repress the activity in the nervous system and can bring digestion to a grinding halt. Since our immune system and health are so closely tied to our digestive tract, that is the last thing we want to do.

Try to avoid NSAIDs as well. Most of our medicine cabinets contain non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen. I’ve been guilty in the past of turning to ibuprofen at the slightest ache and pain, but have been learning to think twice. Chronic use of NSAIDS can irritate the lining of the gastrointestinal system, causing ulcers, gastritis, and indigestion. There are so many natural ways to ease pain before turning to pills that will also keep your digestive system running up to par.

Use Natural Products

Look for natural shampoos, soaps, body washes, and laundry products that don’t contain chemicals. Many shampoos and other soap products contain sodium lauryl sulfate or dextran sulfate sodium. These compounds have been used in lab mice to induce colitis in order to, ironically, help researchers find ways to treat various digestive problems (like Irritable Bowel Syndrome) in people. Though sodium lauryl sulfate is hotly debated, there have been several health concerns attributed to its use. Even if we aren’t literally eating the chemicals in our products, many studies have shown that our skin is very good at absorbing what we put on it. Using natural, chemical-free products is a good insurance policy against many possible issues, not only for our bodies and health, but for the ecosystem that surrounds us as well.

If you already ferment foods and eat them regularly, you are ahead of the game when it comes to taking care of your digestive system and your immune system. Along with all those miraculous probiotics you are ingesting, make sure you are careful about what else goes into your body, as well. Keep your digestion running smoothly, and you’ll feel and stay better than you ever have!


Get your own fermentation lids for Mason jars, as well as glass fermentation weights, airlocks and more, in the Fermentools store. Get a 12-pack and you will have extras to keep on hand.


Andrea gardens, forages, cooks and ferments on a little plot in the city. She loves spreading the word about age-old practices and making them new, exciting and feasible for everyone. Find her at LittleBigHarvest.com.

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