Gut flora, or gut microbiome, refers to the trillions of microbes that live inside our bodies as well as outside it (i.e., on our skin). The “gut microbiome” resides in our digestive tract – specifically the cecum. The gut microbiome plays a significant role in our health. Apart from aiding the digestive process, it also helps with our immunity and health, and proper functioning of the other organs in our body as well.
What is Immunity?
Immunity is our body’s ability to defend and fight off infections. The immune system refers to a group of molecules and cells that protects us from diseases. They are always on the lookout for any ‘foreign’ or unfamiliar substances that they recognize as being harmful to us. Most foreign substances are infectious microbes. If we have a strong immune system, we are less prone to infections. Our gut microbiome plays an important part in maintaining healthy immunity.
The Connection Between Gut Microbiome And Immunity
Intestinal microbiota plays a key role when it comes to controlling innate and adaptive immune cell homeostasis. The latter influences the development of not only our intestinal but also our systemic autoimmune diseases. Intestinal bacteria emit signals which prime systemic immune responses and regulate pro- and anti-inflammatory host immune responses. The gut microbiome influences our immune system via multiple mechanisms. One way is direct competition for limited nutrients and the modulation of host immune responses.
Our immune system and gut flora have a symbiotic relationship. Gut flora for gut health is necessary to protect our body from many health issues. The immune system builds up a defense against infections as well as a ‘tolerance’ for ‘good’ microbes.
As a result, the gut microbiota and the immune system develop a mutually beneficial association. They balance, cooperate with and support each other. This relationship is so fundamental that 70% to 80% of the immune cells in our body is found in the gut. We are born with a sterile gut (or very few organisms that we get from the mother while still in the womb). We acquire most of our gut microbiome during the birthing process.
A healthy give-and-take relationship between the immune system and gut microbiota aids in developing defensive responses against pathogens stimulates tolerance to harmless microbes and their products and also helps maintain self-tolerance (so that our immune system does not react harmfully to our own body).
How Dysbiosis Leads to Chronic Diseases
Dysbiosis is an imbalance of the gut microbiota. This imbalance or dysbiosis can result in a leaky gut. A leaky gut has a weak lining with gaps or holes. This leads to bacteria, toxins, and food particles to leak into the bloodstream. Such a scenario causes widespread inflammation throughout the body. This increases the risk of developing chronic diseases such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, Lyme disease, etc.
Chronic disease is one that lasts 3 months or more. Vaccines and medicines are generally unable to treat a chronic disease, and they do not fade away on their own either.
Dysbiosis can lead to chronic diseases in 3 ways:
1. When pathogens (disease-causing microbes) enter the body or overgrow opportunistically, it is known as gain of function dysbiosis. Gain of function dysbiosis results in infectious diseases such as streptococcal pharyngitis or cholera, and can also lead to chronic inflammation.
2. “Loss of function” dysbiosis occurs when bacteria that protect our health lose their functions or are suppressed. Loss of function dysbiosis has been associated with chronic diseases such as USD, IBD, obesity, etc.
3. The onset of a disease can also occur when a combination of loss and gain of function dysbiosis happens. An example of this type is a recurrent Clostridium difficile infection.
Moral? Gut flora for gut health is the new mantra. Mind your ‘gut’ and stay clear of chronic ailments.