The human body is an extraordinarily complex, interconnected system. In fact, it’s so interconnected that the health of one organ can have a profound impact on others throughout your body.
One such fascinating connection exists between your digestive and respiratory systems. While we often think of these systems as separate, they are more intertwined than you might realize.
Digestive problems can affect your respiratory health, and our team at Kamelhar-Teller Pulmonology is here to help you understand these intricacies. David Kamelhar, MD, and Eric Teller, MD, specialize in pulmonary health.
In this blog post, we’re taking a closer look at how digestion can impact your respiratory health and how a healthy digestive tract can help you achieve optimal respiratory health.
The connections between digestion and respiratory health
Your digestive system’s primary role is breaking down food and absorbing nutrients to give your body energy. However, when your digestive system is compromised, it can lead to a variety of issues that extend far beyond the realm of digestion alone.
Your digestive system and respiratory system work together in your body’s immune response. Tissues in your intestine (gut-associated lymphoid tissue) and tissues in your lungs (bronchus-associated lymphoid tissue) work together to defend your body against germs, or pathogens, to maintain immune balance.
If your digestive system is compromised, you might develop an overactive or weakened immune response, which can affect your respiratory system's ability to fight off infections effectively.
Last but not least, there are a few specific digestive conditions that can cause respiratory symptoms, including:
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
One of the most common ways digestive problems affect the respiratory system is through gastroesophageal reflux disease.
GERD develops when your lower esophageal sphincter relaxes or gets too weak. This sphincter is a muscular ring that separates the esophagus from the stomach. If it is not functioning properly, it can allow stomach contents, including acid, to flow back into your esophagus. This backward flow is called reflux.
This acid reflux can cause irritation and inflammation in your esophagus, often leading to heartburn, chest pain, and difficulty swallowing. Equally often, the reflux does not cause symptoms of that nature and is termed “silent reflux” or laryngopharyngeal reflux, or LPR. Sore throat, hoarseness, throat clearing and cough may result.
But what does this have to do with the respiratory system?
When stomach acid enters your esophagus, it can reach your upper respiratory tract. It can start irritating the lining of your throat, vocal cords, and lungs.
Material, solid or liquid or mixed, originating in the stomach can irritate the esophagus (lower and upper), and even the throat.
GERD can trigger respiratory symptoms like chronic coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. It can sometimes exacerbate existing respiratory conditions, like asthma, and make breathing even more challenging.
Dysbiosis is another digestive issue that can affect your respiratory system: an imbalance in the gut microbiome. Any part of your body exposed to the outside, including skin, nose and sinuses, and gut, is populated by different groups of bacteria. The population of bacteria is called the microbiome.
Conditions like GERD can disrupt the microbiome indigenous to the airways, throat, and vocal cords. When that happens, organisms, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi that generally inhabit those areas, are diminished and dangerous and can increase and cause clinical infection. Dysbiosis can result from poor diet, stress, antibiotics, and other medications.
Your gut is home to trillions of microorganisms that are crucial to digestion, immune function, and overall health. When the balance of these microorganisms is disrupted, it can cause a wide range of problems.
If your gut microbiome is imbalanced, you might develop inflammation, which can trigger a systemic inflammatory response throughout your body — including your respiratory system.
This chronic inflammation can contribute to respiratory conditions like bronchitis and pneumonia, making you more susceptible to respiratory infections and reduced lung function.
A healthy digestive system promotes better respiratory health
The good news is that maintaining a healthy digestive system can help improve respiratory health, too. Here are some tips to promote a healthy gut and minimize the impact of digestive problems on the respiratory system:
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
- Limit foods that trigger acid reflux
- Be sure to remain in an upright position for three hours after food or drink
- Drink plenty of water
- Manage stress levels
If you’re experiencing persistent digestive or respiratory symptoms, make an appointment at Kamelhar-Teller Pulmonology. Our team is here to help diagnose your condition and develop a personalized treatment plan to help you feel your best.
To learn more about intricate connections between your digestive and respiratory systems, book an appointment online or call our office in Midtown East, New York City, at 212-685-6611.