The bacteria living in your gut, called microbiome, has a direct impact on your immune system, say experts. With the focus on the current pandemic, many leading health experts wonder if improving the gut microbiome could have a positive impact in battling COVID-19. Dr. Miguel Freitas, Ph.D., vice president of scientific affairs at Danone, North America, and an expert on probiotics, says that our digestive system houses 70% of our immune system, so eating certain foods can benefit both your gut and your immune system.
”I personally encourage people to consume fermented products like yogurt and kefir to support gut health and the immune system,” he told EatingWell, adding that ”emerging evidence is showing more and more how gut microbiome can play an important role in keeping us healthy.”
New Study Shows Microbiome Influences Antibody Production
Because the microbiota is so complex, containing hundreds of different bacterial species, it was not known how the presence of microbes in the intestine shaped the antibodies that are present even before we are challenged by an infection. Researchers have now shown how beneficial microbes reprogram white blood B cells that produce antibodies and how this helps counter infections.
In a research article published in the journal Nature, a European research team analyzed billions of genes that code the antibodies in a system that allows the responses to individual benign intestinal microbes to be understood.
B cells are white blood cells that develop to produce antibodies. These antibodies, or immunoglobulins, can bind to harmful foreign particles (such as viruses or disease-causing bacteria) to stop them from invading and infecting the body’s cells.
Intestinal microbes trigger expansion of B cell populations and antibody production, but until now it was unknown whether this was a random process, or whether the molecules of the intestinal microbes themselves influence the outcome.
Researchers used specially designed computer programs to process millions of genetic sequences that compare the antibody repertoire from B cells, depending on whether the microbes stay in the intestine, or whether they reach the bloodstream. In both cases the antibody repertoire is altered, but in rather different ways depending on how the exposure occurs.
“Interestingly, this is rather predictable depending on the microbe concerned and where it is in the body, indicating that the intestinal microbes direct the development of our antibodies before we get a serious infection and this process is certainly not random,” explains Dr. Ganal-Vonarburg.
Summary The variety and volume of bacteria in the gut, known as the microbiome, may influence the severity of COVID-19 as well as the magnitude of the immune system response to the infection, suggests research published online in the journal Gut.
Imbalances in the make-up of the microbiome may also be implicated in persisting inflammatory symptoms, dubbed ‘long COVID’, the findings suggest.
COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory illness, but the evidence suggests that the gut may also have a role.
As the gut is the largest immunological organ in the body and its resident microbes are known to influence immune responses, the researchers wanted to find out if the gut microbiome might also affect the immune system response to COVID-19 infection.
They therefore obtained blood and stool samples and medical records from 100 hospital inpatients with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection between February and May 2020 and from 78 people without COVID-19 who were taking part in a microbiome study before the pandemic.
The severity of COVID-19 was classified as mild in the absence of x-ray evidence of pneumonia; moderate if pneumonia with fever and respiratory tract symptoms were detected; severe if patients found it very difficult to breathe normally; and critical if they needed mechanical ventilation or experienced organ failure requiring intensive care.
To characterise the gut microbiome, 41 of the COVID patients provided multiple stool samples while in hospital, 27 of whom provided serial stool samples up to 30 days after clearance of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19.
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