Gut-mediated immune response – Knowledge is power in boosting innate immunity
The viral pandemic shows no sign of abating and the relentless media coverage and increasing restrictions can create fear and a feeling of powerlessness.
At Zestt Wellness, we believe knowledge is power and we thought over the next few weeks, we would share a few deep dives into how we can strengthen our general health so that we are in the best possible position to thrive no matter what we come up against.
Before we start, we need to put our cards on the table and lay out that we are both fully vaccinated. We have read much of the scientific literature and Darcy, being immunocompromised and someone with heart weakness, has been extra vigilant around understanding both sides of the argument – he is happy to have a chat with anyone who would like to share concerns.
In our view, the data still points to vaccination as being the best way of reducing viral symptoms and staying out of hospital. For us this is not a vax versus anti-vax argument, it’s about genuine discussion and sharing of knowledge and assessment of data - we are always open to listening, talking and sharing.
This blog is not about the vaccination debate. Regardless of where you stand, there are ways we can enhance our general health.
We don’t think this is being talked about enough in any circles.
We are going to do a deep dive into a fascinating and relatively misunderstood area of immunity – that is gut-mediated immunity.
Let’s start by talking about the many organisms - bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses which live in our gut - these are called “gut microbiota.” Many of these organisms have existed in various shapes and forms for billions of years and have co-evolved with humans to be in their current form (read more here).
In our gut we host as many as 40 trillion microbes, in fact, more than half our body is not human! The microbes we host have evolved to be able to thrive in our bodies – they are dependent on us and interestingly, as we are discovering, we are just as dependent on them for good health and survival.
When we upset this co-dependency, or homeostasis, we can cause short and long-term issues. This is called “dysbiosis” and has been implicated in a broad range of inflammatory disease states. There is also evidence that changes in gut microbiota has implications for cognitive and mental health dysfunction and our immune response.
Let’s have a look at how this gut-mediated immune response works.
Within our gut we have an inner lining called the intestinal mucosa. This mucosa protects us from the invasion of infectious pathogens. At the same time, it allows the cohabitation of “commensal” bacteria in the gut – the commensal bacteria are the good ones, living in harmony with us.
The commensal bacteria that live in our intestinal mucosal and epidermal surfaces are recognised as “friends” by our body. We have co-evolved with these organisms, so we recognise their signals as non-threatening, and we don’t try to fight them via inflammatory mechanisms.
When the “bad guys” (the invading microorganisms) turn up and try to get a foothold, they are sensed by our commensal bacteria via diverse receptors. These receptors bridge a critical gap between our innate and adaptive immune response by detecting the invading organism (read more about the three stages of our immune system in a previous blog here).
Once the commensal bacteria sense the invaders, they trigger a cascade of signals in response. These same signals are recognised by our body and we set in place our own cascade of signals to remove the invading organism. These signals include mechanisms you might have heard of, such as the secretion of immune-modulatory chemokines and cytokines, which are molecules that are critical for triggering both innate and adaptive immune responses in our bodies (read more here).
In our bodies, the relationship of micro-biota and our immunity is like a seesaw. It’s an intimate relationship, if the host immunity breaks down and the invaders “over-exploit” us as hosts, then the organisms which live within our bodies are also under threat – it’s in ours’ and the commensal organisms’, best interests that we all thrive – hence this impressive co-evolution.
To make matters more complicated, our gut microbiota are fighting against all that we throw at them - they can be disrupted by diet, antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals, lack of exercise, hormones and environmental chemicals – it’s like Armageddon out there and we need to do what we can to maintain homeostasis – we write of this in previous blogs (read here, here and here):
Our commensal bacteria are our friends and contribute enormously to our innate and adaptive immunity. There are ways in which we can do more to support them and we will write about that in our next blog.
In the meantime, eat a diet rich in fruit and vegetables – commensal organisms love the prebiotic fibres which come from plants. It’s also important to try to reduce exposure to alcohol and highly processed food such as white bread and refined sugars.
Let’s feed our commensal bacteria the best way we can – our immunity and mental health will thank us for it!
Please contact us if you have any queries firstname.lastname@example.org and don’t forget to check out our new lozenge range and Breathe Easy!