In part 2 of the Gut Microbiome 101 series, we look at an overview of how the gut microbiome affects health.
In part 1 of the Gut Microbiome 101 series, we looked at what the gut microbiome is and one of the key points in that post is that we co-evolved with microbes, so we have a complex and intimate relationship with them.
A healthy gut microbiome affects our health in many ways, including:
- production of Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs) - bacterial metabolites that modify gene expression, influence immune health, support gut health, metabolic health and influence the nervous system
- production of vitamins and assistance in absorption of minerals
- production of neurotransmitters
- keeps the growth of pathogens in check
- free radical scavenging
The gut is connected to most body systems by a series of axes, such as the gut-brain axis, the gut-joint axis and the gut-skin axis. The gut is considered pivotal to our health for this reason. It strongly influences every body system and many diseases processes.
From the time we are born, the microbes in our gut play a key role in educating the immune system, helping to establish the innate immune system. Remember, most of the immune system is in the gut. Over time, we also develop the adaptive immune system which involves an ongoing process of learning and memory. This is essential to how we can deal with pathogens that might appear numerous times over our lifetime. There is actually a reciprocal relationship between commensal gut bacteria and the immune system – meaning, it’s not all one-way traffic.
A key aspect of the immune system is a concept called “oral tolerance”. This means that our immune system must be able to distinguish between proteins found in pathogens and protein found in food. So that when we eat foods, the immune system does not respond inappropriately to that food. Allergies involve a breakdown of oral tolerance. Our immune system must also tolerate symbiotic (beneficial) bacteria and appropriately recognise pathogenic bacteria as part of normal immune function.
The gut microbiome therefore influences how the immune system responds to various proteins. There is a complex system of crosstalk occurring between immune cells and the microbiota. When this intricate balance is disturbed, this sets in motion the path to disease.
Gut microbiome health is believed to be a key factor in conditions such as allergies, anxiety, depression, Parkinson’s disease, endometriosis, eczema and autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis, and many, many more. There is a significant amount of research investigating the complexities of these conditions which will hopefully lead to better treatments.
In the next Gut Microbiome 101 post in the series, we take a look at how pregnancy and birth shape the gut microbiome.
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