IBS and your immune system

How IBS can affect your immune system


Alison Cullen
Nutritional Practitioner, BA (Hons), DN, DNT (Distinction)
@AVogelUK
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An introduction to IBS and your immune system

Our immune system is body’s defence mechanism against disease. It aims to identify and attack any foreign bodies which have breached our first lines of defence and invaded our system. For more general information on the immune system you can refer to A.Vogel Talks Immune system.

In this page we discuss how having digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can have a negative impact on our immune system.

Why does IBS cause a weak immune system?

There are various routes for pathogens to breach our first lines of defence and invade our body, the digestive system being a major one. The food and drink we consume daily can easily be contaminated with bacteria or viruses. Our stomach acid plays a crucial role in killing many of these off, so supporting our stomach acid, for example by taking a herbal stomach bitter 5 minutes before a meal, can be a great first step in managing the microbial load on our body.

Further down the digestive system, the gut wall forms a gastrointestinal barrier; however, in some cases this may be violated. If pathogens get a chance to enter our circulation, it is the role of our immune system to recognise this and take action.

The cells of our gut wall are usually packed tightly together, allowing them to form a barrier in a bid to prevent pathogens crossing over. In IBS, irritation of the gut wall, together with muscles spasms (often with diarrhoea) can make this barrier of cells more vulnerable, and gaps can form. This is often called ‘leaky gut’ as more pathogens are able to literally leak through into our bloodstream. This results in an overwhelmed immune system.

If leaky gut happens in combination with constipation, the result is slow moving waste together with imperfect cells. This will result in even more toxins leaching over and again our immune system is put under pressure.

Other aspects of IBS may also be having a detrimental effect on our immune system. In cases of IBS it is possible that a bacterial or yeast overgrowth is residing in the gut, for example Candida albicans. Candida is yeast which is found naturally in small amounts in the gut, however, in certain circumstances, for example in constipation, Candida seizes the opportunity to multiply which can be detrimental. Candida is very good at piercing the gut wall, allowing even more toxins to pass through. These will circulate in the blood stream and travel around the whole body. Surprisingly, Candida albicans can even cross the blood-brain barrier and give rise to symptoms such as brain fog.

What can I try at home for a weak immune system?

There are some home remedies which can help in supporting your immune system.

  • Eat and drink well: Try to include a fresh, wholesome array of ingredients in your diet. Fresh fruit and vegetables are packed with essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which will help to support your immune system. Vitamin C and zinc are of particular importance. To learn more about how diet can boost you immune system, click on the link to our blog
  • Get enough sleep: Whilst we sleep our bodies are in repair mode. Your immune system is active during this time and releases cells called cytokines which fight infection or inflammation. A reduction in sleep means less time and focus for your body to complete this process
  • Don’t stress: Stress can have a negative impact on the body’s immune system: Read our blog on this topic to find out more.

How can herbal remedies help me?

Echinacea is well known for its role in helping fight colds and flu. It has strong anti-viral qualities (very useful as 95% of colds and flu are viral infections) and is also able to directly target invading bacteria or fungi too.

Echinacea also has indirect benefits, supporting your immune system and helping to maintain the body’s resistance to pathogens so they aren’t able to take hold and invade our cells.

How can my doctor help?

If home or herbal remedies aren’t giving your immune system the support it needs, a trip to your doctor might be necessary.

In terms of general support for the immune system, home and herbal remedies should always be considered; however, your doctor may be able to prescribe specific antibiotics or anti-viral medications if you have a stubborn infection that your body is struggling to fight. If you are taking antibiotics, always consider taking a probiotic supplement alongside this to support your healthy gut bacteria.

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Here’s what I recommend

As the A.Vogel Digestion advisor, I recommend Silicol® Gel and Molkosan® Original, to help with your IBS symptoms.

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