The Gut and Immune Connection

Seasonal allergies are a just a part of life, right? Super common, everyone has them, just a fact of life…right? What if I told you that they’re not just an annoying part of life, that they’re actually relatively new for us. And, along with auto-immune conditions, they’re on the rise and the culprit might be our super clean lives.
It might just be that clean and purified water you’re drinking, and/or the flushing toilet you have in the bathroom that has made your body more susceptible to immune imbalances like allergies and auto-immune conditions. To find some answers we need to go back a few hundred years, back to the Industrial Revolution. Before this time, most of us lived on farms and had animals everywhere. It seems our immune system prefers this way of life…and you’ll see why in a minute. During the Industrial Revolution, many people began to flood the cities looking for work. And life for the "average Joe" was even dirtier than in the countryside. It’s hard to live in a crowded city without running water and sanitation…just imagine what it was like back then! But it wasn’t dirty for everyone. The elite, or the upper upper classes lived a much cleaner life. They weren’t living with the dirt and grime in the cities, nor with the animals in the countryside. They lived a bit like the way we do now…and they developed a very interesting set of symptoms.
They developed seasonal allergies.
For the first time, their immune system began to act like ours does. Mistaking pollen and dust for an invader, and causing the annoying sniffling, sneezing, runny nose symptoms that a large percentage of us feel every spring. The part I find really funny is this—because it was the upper class that started sneezing, it became a sign of wealth. It was posh to have allergies. Today, our immune system has gotten even more confused, and with auto-immune conditions, the immune system is now mistaking our own cells as invaders and is attacking them. Could auto-immune conditions also be due to our much cleaner lifestyle? For that we need to look at a study that followed two genetically similar groups of people. Half living in Finland, the other half in Russia, and they’re only separated by a few 100 miles and a border. In Finland they live like we do—their water is clean, they have great sanitation, and their diet is pretty similar to ours. In Russia their lives involve a lot more bacteria. Their water is contaminated and they lack modern sewage systems. The reason they looked at these two groups in particular is because of their rates of Type I Diabetes, an auto-immune condition affecting the insulin producing cells in their pancreas. Because they were genetically similar, this study could look to see if lifestyle had an effect.
And it might—the rate of Type I Diabetes is 4x higher in the community in Finland vs. the community in Russia.
More research needs to happen on how the bacteria in our body affects auto-immune conditions, but in the meantime the connection is promising and it’s worth considering. The community in Russia had a stronger microbiome, or gut bacteria than those in Finland, and that may be the difference. Each year more and more information is discovered on how our gut bacteria affects our immune system. What we know so far is certain types of bacteria in our gut regulate our immune system. Without these bacteria our immune system may become overactive; leading to allergies, inflammation, and possibly auto-immune conditions. Keeping your gut bacteria happy and healthy is easy, you just need to take care of it everyday. And no, you don’t have to give up your modern plumbing and sanitation.

3 steps to a healthy microbiome:

  1. Seed your gut with a human-strain, multi-strain probiotic –
Give your gut the input of bacteria we no longer get in our super clean lifestyle. I’m not willing to give up my clean running water, so instead I take Flora’s Adult Blend Probiotic (US/CA) everyday…or at least 1 - 2x per week.
  1. Feed your gut with plant-based foods –
The American Gut Project is an open-source database of our gut bacteria…they literally study our poop. They’ve found a correlation between the healthiest and most diverse microbiome and a diet full of plant-based foods like fruits, veggies, nuts, beans, etc.
  1. Fertilize your gut bacteria with fermented foods –
Give your gut bacteria a great head start by having a serving of fermented foods everyday. A good quality yogurt, kefir, or fermented veggies like unpasteurized saurkraut help create a beautiful environment for your gut bacteria. Just 1 serving per day is all you need!
About the Author: Lisa Kilgour
Lisa Kilgour is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN), founder of, and a faculty member at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition.