Billions of bacteria live in the human intestine. In total, about 100 trillion bacterial cells. Today, researchers call this world of microbes “Microbiome”. To emphasize how this number is large, a single gram of intestinal contents is home to more living organisms than the earth’s population. Very significant and that what makes the subject exciting, and knowing more about these little creatures a necessity.
They live in complete darkness, invisible to the naked eye, but one of the hottest research objects now. Many scientists now believe that these microorganisms that live in the human digestive tract will play a major role in the medicine of the future. And they want to use them to make people healthier by changing the composition of the intestinal flora.
Before explaining the relationship between the gut microbiome and the immune system, let us take a look at the impact of having a healthy gut microbiome and the importance of the immune system.
How important is our gut microbiome?
Intestinal bacteria have long been known as digestive aids. They produce enzymes that break down otherwise unusable food components, such as fiber, into components that the body can absorb. And as we are going to explain in this article, the gut flora plays an important role in our immune system.
Besides, the gut microbiome helps in several other tasks. Now we refer to it as “an organ within the organ” or even as the “super organ”. The list of diseases that a healthy gut can help prevent or overcome is constantly growing. According to this study from the University of Michigan Medical School, balanced gut flora can prevent several diseases like Cardiovascular disease, Irritable bowel disease, Clostridium difficile infection, and Inflammatory bowel disease, overweight (obesity), and diabetes.
Even in the development of complications such as depression and autism, the intestinal flora plays a role.
And in the same study, they emphasize that a better understanding of the microbiome is very likely to lead to new diagnostic, prognostic, and therapeutic capabilities.
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How important is our immune system?
The immune system is the first defense against harmful substances, pathogens, and any disease-causing cell. As long as the defense is functioning smoothly, it is unnoticeable. However, if the immune system is compromised, the whole body becomes sick.
The main tree tasks of the immune system are: first to eliminate pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi. Second to detect and neutralize harmful substances. And finally to combat pathological conditions such as cancer cells.
The immune system is activated by many foreign substances and agents, called antigens. These cover the proteins on the surface of bacteria, fungi, and viruses. When these antigens dock to special receptors of defense cells, a whole series of cell processes are set in motion. After the first contact with a pathogen, the corresponding information is usually stored. On future exposures, they are immediately retrieved so that the body can defend itself more quickly.
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The intestine has its own immune system.
GALT is the abbreviation for the gut-associated immune system. It stands for gut-associated lymphoid tissue.
GALT is located in the intestinal mucosa and represents the most extensive selection of defense cells in the body: About 70 percent of our immune cells are found there. Their task is to fight unwanted germs and foreign substances.
This process is done by stimulating the production of various defense cells to fight any Foreign substance. At the same time, it must tolerate, for example, nutrients and the microorganisms of the intestine flora. It must be able to differentiate between “good” and “bad.”
This tuned interaction of different defense mechanisms is necessary to ensure the complex task of tolerating of harmless “friends,” and taking hard action against “enemies.” And the lymphatic system, which runs through the villi in the small intestine, plays a particularly important role.
Among other things, the specialized immune cells of the intestine are stored in small lymph nodes, the Peyer’s plaques. The lymphatic system connects the GALT with the rest of the immune system and passes on information from the “intestinal police” about pathogens and foreign substances to all immune cells. Thus it performs an important function for the entire body-own defense.
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How intestinal bacteria help the immune system?
For a long time, the intestine was undervalued and only perceived as a simple digestive tube. Now, it is becoming increasingly clear that the intestine is a real super-organ. It is not only responsible for breaking down food and absorbing it. The intestine also has a hand in our defenses. After all, it has its own immune system – around 70 percent of our defense cells are located in the intestinal wall.
Direct defense against pathogens:
The intestinal wall is a mechanical barrier that keeps the unwanted particles and substances outside. And With the help of the intestinal immune system and our intestinal flora, these harmful outsiders are eliminated. The pure mass of the gut microbiome prevents pathogens from spreading in the digestive tract. An intact intestinal flora is probably also essential for the function of the intestinal barrier. This controls which substances pass from the body into the intestine and vice versa.
The intestinal bacteria compete with pathogens for “food” and attachments on the intestinal wall. Also, they consume the oxygen that many pathogens need to survive. So the good intestinal bacteria can prevent dangerous germs from spreading and in the intestine, and this process is called colonization resistance.
Some of our intestinal fauna also produce antibacterial substances that inhibit the growth of foreign bacteria. For example, lactobacilli and bifidobacteria produce lactic acid. This lowers the pH value in the intestine, creating an acidic, intestine-friendly environment.
Besides, intestinal bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids, and these chains have a protective effect on the intestinal wall, by helping to maintain the intestinal barrier.
This article from the Gastroenterology journal explains more how the microbiota is an important factor in the development of the immune response. Strong gut flora, mains a strong immune system, therefore an unbalanced intestinal flora is associated with increased susceptibility to infections: cold viruses, diarrhea, pathogens, and fungi.
Training and maintaining the immune system:
Our intestinal bacteria help a lot when it comes to defense against pathogens. Also, they stimulate and train our immune system around the clock and keep it on its toes. they act as training partners for the immune system and ensure that the body has proper defenses.
For this reason, it is essential to maintain the natural balance of this army of personal trainers.
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How to support the intestinal flora?
As we learn in this article, intestinal bacteria are extremely important for a strong immune system. So the immune system can be strengthened by specifically supporting the good intestinal bacteria. To learn more you can visit our detailed article about How to improve your Gut microbiome?
A healthy diet:
The Article “Human nutrition, the gut microbiome, and the immune system” in Natur Magazin establishes the connection between diet and healthy gut flora. So changing a few things in your diet and avoiding some bad habits can be your solution to a healthy gut and a strong immune system.
Introducing living bacteria to your diet that are part of the healthy intestinal flora can be extremely helpful. For example, you can find bifidobacteria or lactobacilli in sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir.