How the gut and the lungs are connected

What you eat can keep your respiratory health in top shape

How the gut and the lungs are connected

There was a time when we assumed that the gut is for eating and lungs are for breathing. Not long ago, research revealed that they communicate, and that means that your choice of food may help lower your risk of respiratory illnesses.

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 short chain fatty acids (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 lungs have fewer bacteria than the gut, they are still a dynamic environment with ability to impact immunity.

The gut-lung dialogue

A healthy gut microbiome means better respiratory health and intact mucous layers in the gut and respiratory system. Gut dysbiosis (imbalance), 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.

Microbiome 101

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.

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 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.

Other supplements that may help include:

  • L-glutamine
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin C

Check with your health care practitioner before taking a new supplement.

Eating for trillions


Benefits for our microbiomes

legumes soluble and insoluble fiber; resistant starch
flaxseeds soluble fiber
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