The important link between immunity and digestion

What do food intolerances, allergies, IBS, cancer, asthma, hayfever, coeliac disease, behavioural issues, and countless other increasingly common conditions all have in common? They are all symptoms of immune system dysfunction. Not many people realise this but approximately 70 per cent of our immune system resides in the gut, which is why probiotics — ‘good’ bacteria — has become such a buzzword in recent times, and need to be replaced after taking a course of antibiotics. Many people develop food intolerances or are even diagnosed with coeliac disease after suffering from viruses or similar immune dysfunction. This is because the good flora in the gut, which is so important for healthy digestion, has often been affected by the illness or even the medication for treating it.

Avoiding the food or allergen is one way to deal with the situation, but to achieve optimal health it is vital to boost immunity and gut function from within. Secretory IgA (sIgA ) levels are an important indicator of immune health within the gut: a decreased level indicates diminished activity of the intestinal immune system and often leads to IBS, food intolerances, allergies, asthma, autism, behavioural problems, chronic infections, Crohns, candidiasis, thrush, cystitis, coeliac disease, and autoimmune conditions; very high levels on the other hand are indicative of intestinal inflammation and immune overload. SIgA is found in saliva in the mouth, throughout the gastrointestinal tract, and in the mucus secretions throughout the body. Secretory IgA (sIgA ) provides our first line of defence against bacteria, food residue, fungus, parasites, and viruses.

So what causes an imbalance in secretory IgA levels? Poor diet, infections, medications, alcohol, ageing, food poisoning, gastroenteritis, chemotherapy, and high stress levels all play a role.

Athlone Nutrition Clinic tests Secretory IgA levels for any of the above conditions and will provide a detailed dietary and nutrient programme to help repair immune and digestive function from within. For details phone (090 ) 6470897 or visit

Doing the best for your bones

Eating foods rich in calcium and vitamin D is definitely the prescription for healthy bones. The difficulty is getting foods to fit into your diet that fill this need, especially when many of the fad diets recommend cutting out dairy foods to promote weight loss. So what can you do to practically make sure that you are having enough calcium and vitamin D, without compromising on your diet, to keep you at, or steer you towards, a healthy weight?


Switch to low fat or skimmed dairy products — they will have just as much calcium as the higher fat versions. They may be a bit hard to get used to at the start, but persevere — your taste buds will soon prefer the lower fat versions.

Include at least three portions of dairy foods per day — handy ways to do this are to have milk on breakfast cereal, yogurt with lunch, and some cheese sprinkled over your potatoes in the evening. Do not forget that milk added to your tea and coffee can be counted as well.

Vitamin D

Although vitamin D is sometimes referred to as the sunshine vitamin you can really only rely on the summer sun to provide enough intensity to make enough vitamin D, and unfortunately it is not a vitamin we can stock up on. Best to get into the habit of getting some D from our diet.

Dietary sources of vitamin D include margarine, fortified breakfast cereals, dairy products, oily fish, and egg yolks. To get an adequate amount you should eat at least some of these foods every day.

Oily fish is rich in vitamin D, so not only is it good for your heart but will also help your bones. It is recommended to eat some oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, trout, etc, at least once a week. And there is no need to take out the fishing rod (unless you want to ) — tinned oily fish will do. The only exception is tuna, which contains calcium but very little vitamin D because of the way it is processed.

If you really cannot stand oily fish take fish oil supplements — look on the label for one supplying at least 500mg EPA/DHA.

Safeguarding your bones is vital — remember that exercise is also key. The best exercises to help towards strong bones are weight bearing ones such as aerobics, jogging, walking, or bouncing on the trampoline. Strong bones will definitely support you for a healthier life.

Cara Cunningham, community dietitian, HSE Dublin Mid-Leinster. For more information or for more information on diet and nutrition contact the Community Nutrition and Dietetic Service, HSE Dublin-Mid Leinster, phone (044 ) 9353220 or email community. [email protected]


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