The Digestion—Immunity Link – And How Bitter Herbs Can Help!

Canadian Bitters + Apple Cider Vinegar

Bitters for Better Immunity. How Digestion helps strengthen your natural defences.

There has been a lot of talk about immunity over the last few years. We are all looking to build and maintain a strong immune system.

The immune system is located all throughout the body, including in the digestive tract – and supporting gut health can strengthen your natural immune defenses!

What does gut health have to do with it?

You may have heard the popular statistic that “80% of the immune system resides in the gut”.

Our immune system is incredibly complex but can be simplified as having 2 types: the innate immune system and the​ adaptive immune system​.

Our entire digestive tract has various functions and mechanisms of both innate and adaptive immunity that provide protection, including epithelial cells and tissue, mucous membranes, stomach acid, and bacterial colonies, or the “microbiome.”

Balanced digestive health helps to define the health of our immune system through:

  • Its ability to absorb nutrients vital to immune system function & immune cell differentiation.
  • ​Acting as a first line of defense against infections with protective mechanisms including​ stomach acid: to kill infectious microbes and regulate the number of beneficial bacteria in our digestive tract.
  • Housing the “microbiome” or colony of bacteria in our digestive tract that supports our immune function​.
  • The GALT (gut-associated lymphoid tissue) and MALT (mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue) that provide strength and balance to our immune system and promote the gut-lung axis immune reaction in the respiratory tract.

A weakened digestive system can be the result of diet, stress, and exposure to certain medications, resulting in upper GI tract and gut issues that are often chronic, as well as impaired immune function.

For example, too little stomach acid production can lead to heartburn and reduced efficacy in destroying pathogens.

A gut microbiome that is damaged or imbalanced can contribute to gas, constipation, or cramping, and reduces vital immune defences. When epithelial cells in the gut lining or the mucous membrane that protects it are impaired, nutrient absorption can be compromised, or “leaky gut” can develop, wreaking havoc on immune system responses.

Certain herbs directly influence the immune system, including astragalus, reishi mushroom, and echinacea, while others provide a different immune support – bitter herbs!

To start with, bitterness is an action, not a constituent of herbs. Bitter flavours stimulate a receptor on the tongue – the “vagus nerve” – that switches the nervous system from fight or flight to rest and digest –the ideal state for digestive processes.

These receptors are present all throughout the digestive tract and, when activated, release gastrin, resulting in an overall stimulation of digestive function, including the production of saliva, stomach acid, and digestive enzymes, as well as gut motility. Over time, this strengthens the structure and function of all digestive organs.

Bitters also:

  • Help the gut wall repair damage by stimulating self-repair mechanism via “microinflammation”​.
  • Trigger the release of Cholecystokinin (CCK) a peptide hormone that signals the release of pancreatic enzymes and bile production and flow​.
  • Stimulate the production of connective tissue to repair and strengthen the intestinal lining.
  • ​Cause an increase of abdominal blood flow to support absorption of nutrients as well as intestinal maintenance/repair).
  • Promote appetite regulation and help with blood sugar stabilization.

​Bitter receptors are not just in the digestive tract, but throughout the body! Including in the lymph nodes, skin, and bronchial smooth muscle cells – vital parts of the body’s immune defences. When stimulated, bitter-sensitive cells can release compounds that neutralize bacteria​, protecting us from pathogens.

If you experience frequent symptoms of indigestion – or even on occasion – it could be sign that your digestive system could use some support.

St. Francis Herb Farm’s Canadian Bitters® formulas contain a spectrum of traditional bitter herbs, including globe artichoke, dandelion, and gentian root, which can safely be taken daily to help support and strengthen organs of digestion.

Incorporating the action of bitter plant medicines is easier than you think. Simply take 1-1.5 ml (30-45 drops) 3 times daily, in a little water, on an empty stomach. Take 15-60 minutes before meals, after a heavy meal, or when discomfort occurs. They can also be added to cocktails, mocktails, juice, or an herbal tea – upping the digestive benefits of any beverage.

Plus, they are all non-habit-forming formulas. Their actions also help retrain the body’s digestive system, encouraging it to function more efficiently instead of merely providing a temporary solution.

Bitters support optimal functioning of the digestive system for everyone, assisting better nutrient absorption that “feeds” immune system function, helping to both improve digestion and support healthy immune responses.

So, when focusing on your immune health, consider your digestive health. The simple addition of Canadian Bitters® to mealtime can help to ensure that you are getting optimized nourishment, smooth digestion, and some extra support in keeping your natural defences strong.

 

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