In Part 1 of our series on gut health, we discussed the impact of good gut health on digestion and absorption. This next part focuses on perhaps a lesser known impact – immunity.
A large portion of the immune system is found in the gut. In fact, over 70% of all the body’s immune cells are found here. Take a moment to think about it and you will realize that the gut is really an important barrier between the body and the outside world. If you consider a grazing horse, it is likely that every time that horse takes a bite of grass he is also ingesting bacteria. But these bacteria don’t make him sick. Why? Because the gut protects him from it.
Interestingly, the good microbes that live in the gut have a responsibility to protect the body from the bad microbes (pathogens) that may try to enter. First, they compete with pathogens for space and food in the gut. When the good outnumber the bad, it becomes easy to eliminate pathogens. Second, the good microbes improve overall gut health and strengthen the physical and chemical defense mechanisms of the gut. Physically, good gut microbes initiate immune functions in the cells lining the gut wall, ensuring those cells will do their job. Chemically, good gut microbes prevent against infection by keeping the gut acidity, or pH, correct. The gut was designed to be relatively acidic for a reason, to make it a hostile environment for pathogens trying to invade the body. Keeping that acidic pH at the right level, not too high and not too low, is a key to good gut health and very important to the immune function of the gut.
Improving the gut’s immune response isn’t only important for protecting against pathogens consumed. Several studies have demonstrated that good gut health, and the subsequent efficacy of the gut immune cells, is important for defense against respiratory diseases and even cancer.
So, now that you know the significant role the gut plays in immunity, what can you do to help ensure your horse has the good gut health necessary to boost the immune system?
We first recommend providing a diet that is rich in fiber and forage. This provides fuel for good microbes to thrive in the hindgut of the horse. Second, a horse’s lifestyle is important for maintaining good gut health. Whenever possible, try to provide adequate turnout, exercise and avoid stressful situations. Lastly, providing a probiotic and/or prebiotic supplement can thoroughly enhance gut health. Amaferm®, the proprietary prebiotic found in all Vitalize® supplements, improves gut health and strengthens the gut microbe population to assist in improving the resilience and barrier functions of the gut. Next time you think immunity, think gut health!