Next time you eat, be sure to load up on lots of colorful plant-based fiber-rich items—and then imagine the trajectory of that good food through your body. Here’s a hint: insoluble fiber in that food helps move things along, while gut bacteria digest the soluble fiber to produce beneficial metabolites known as short chain fatty acids (SCFAs).
SCFAs and gut bacteria boost health by acting on tissues and organs, including those in the lungs. It’s true: our diet influences our respiratory health.
What is the gut-lung axis?
Bacteria get into the lungs from your mouth, from the air you breathe, and from the gut, hence both environmental factors and your gut microbiota will affect respiratory health. Metabolites such as the SCFAs reach the lungs through the lymphatic system and blood circulation. They help reduce inflammation, repair the gut lining, and protect against lung infections.
Though the lungs have fewer bacteria than the gut, they are still a dynamic environment with the ability to impact immunity.
The gut-lung dialogue
A healthy gut microbiome means better respiratory health and intact mucus layers in the gut and respiratory system. Gut dysbiosis, on the other hand, increases the risk of asthma and allergies. Also, chronic respiratory illnesses occur more often in people with irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease.
Antibiotic treatments, anti-ulcer, and anti-reflux medications affect the gut microbiota and can increase the risk of asthma, allergies, and upper respiratory infections.
From the lung end, influenza and pneumonia can cause gut dysbiosis and can impact the renewal of intestinal cells.
Bacteria start colonizing the gut from birth, thriving as they feed on breastmilk prebiotic sugars. Then come solid foods, which further build the gut microbiome.
Fiber and exposure to dirt help increase the diversity of bugs in our body microbiome, boosting overall health. Because the gut is not an isolated organ, any gut imbalance, or dysbiosis, will affect various parts of the body.
Dysbiosis can occur at any age and for many reasons: environmental, unhealthy lifestyle, diet, and/or medication. The microbiome tends to become less robust as we age—yet another reason to maintain a fiber-rich diet.
Fiber for lung health
Fiber-derived SCFAs protect the mucus layer in the gut, which protects against pathogens and reduces inflammation. In the lungs, too, SCFAs reduce inflammation associated with allergic reactions.
Since pollution is often unavoidable, a diet rich in fiber helps reduce the risk of respiratory disease by reducing inflammation caused by particulate matter and other pollutants.
Did you know?
- Almost half the people with IBD and a third of people with IBS have chronic lung inflammation.
- Exposure to dirt and pets in early childhood reduces the risk of allergy and asthma.
Supplements for digestive health
Oral probiotics can reduce the severity of asthma attacks and allergy symptoms in children. They can also improve the gut barrier and reduce inflammation. However, given the multitude of options, consult with a health professional for the best suited probiotic supplement.
Meanwhile, munch on naturally fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi regularly. They contain probiotic bacteria and prebiotics, plus vitamins and minerals formed during fermentation.
This amino acid can help improve digestive health by decreasing intestinal permeability and reducing inflammation.
Essential to maintaining the integrity of the gut lining, vitamin D needs to be converted to its active form by diverse and beneficial gut bacteria.
A powerful antioxidant, vitamin C can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage in the gut.
Eating for trillions
|Food||Benefits for our microbiomes|
|legumes||soluble and insoluble fiber; resistant starch|
|chia seeds||soluble fiber and mucilage|
|fruit||soluble fiber; boosts respiratory health|
|berries||polyphenols which impact gut microbiota directly or are metabolized into beneficial compounds|
|leafy greens||soluble and insoluble fiber; complex carbohydrates that gut bacteria metabolize into pathogen-fighting compounds|
|whole grains||soluble and insoluble fiber, resistant starch, and complex carbohydrates|