Researchers are continuously uncovering the mechanisms behind what prior observations had demonstrated about the links between our diet, our gut, and our immune systems. A recent report in Nature explains another fascinating mechanism by which bacteria in our gut take amino acids in our diet to make a sugar that influences our immune system’s natural killer cells (NK cells). Researchers from Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Seoul National University, and Monash University in Australia deserve our thanks for this news.
While thousands of such mechanisms likely exist, this one provides a strikingly simple example of the immune – gut interaction. Specific bacteria called Bacteroides fragilis (B. fragilis) reside in our colons. They take a group of amino acids we call branched-chain amino acids and convert them into a sugar lipid structure that is released around the bacteria. These sugar lipid molecules are picked up by the NK cells. The NK cells are influenced to exert anti-inflammatory effects on other parts of the immune system.
While this research was done in mice, it both confirms 2014 research by others suggesting such a connection and provides insights that likely play a role in human health as well. Over time and further research, we can hopefully learn more of these interactions in the human colon and determine how to influence health and disease for humans.
These NK cells are found in various body tissues like the GI tract and the lungs, a fact which provides some potential therapeutic links for the future,. Inflammatory conditions in these organs could be influenced by substances developed from this research. In the meantime, we in functional medicine can continue to promote the importance of gut health and balanced nutrition. Even if we don’t know the exact mechanisms linking diet, gut health, and immune health, we know that low inflammatory nutrition practices influence the degree of inflammation and disease activity.
Helping patients and the public live healthier more abundant lives requires applying the latest medical research news and continuing to share these findings with our patients.
Sungwhan F. Oh, T. Praveena, Heebum Song, Ji-Sun Yoo, Da-Jung Jung, Deniz Erturk-Hasdemir, Yoon Soo Hwang, ChangWon C. Lee, Jérôme Le Nours, Hyunsoo Kim, Jesang Lee, Richard S. Blumberg, Jamie Rossjohn, Seung Bum Park, Dennis L. Kasper. Host immunomodulatory lipids created by symbionts from dietary amino acids. Nature, 2021; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-04083-0
Thanks to Science daily:
Harvard Medical School. “Research in mice shows how diet alters immune system function through a gut microbe.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 November 2021. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/11/211116175057.htm>.
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Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.