"Probiotics are only good for digestion," or at least that's what most people assume when they think of these helpful microscopic organisms. However, the digestive system also plays a large role in immune function and according to researchers good bacteria are largely responsible for that relationship. In a new analysis conducted at Oregon State University (OSU) that was published in Clinical Reviews in Allergy and Immunology, scientists believe that communication between gut microbes and other cells is crucial to overall immune support. When there's a breakdown in communication between gut bacteria and immune cells, it may affect everything from immune function to moods to body weight.
What We've Got Here Is a Failure to Communicate
The human gut is home to millions of cells, including hundreds of types of helpful bacteria that can make up 3–5 lbs of an average adult's body weight. Other types of cells include T cells and other immune cells that make up about 70% of the immune system. Previous research has discovered that good bacteria, or probiotics, may influence the development of the immune system and help increase the number of T cells. According to Dr. Natalia Shulzhenko, assistant professor and physician in the OSU Department of Biomedical Sciences, communication between probiotics and immune cells that inhabit the digestive tract is crucial to help stimulate the immune system into action. However, she also points out, "There's an increasing disruption of these microbes from modern lifestyle, diet, overuse of antibiotics, and other issues. With that disruption, the conversation is breaking down." Besides affecting immune function and digestion, scientists speculate that miscommunication between probiotics and the immune system can affect other areas such as your mood and metabolism. When gut bacteria become accustomed to a high-fat diet, they also learn to "prefer" these types of food, leading to increased fat absorption and body weight.
Balance Gut Health in Your Favor
Dr. Shulzhenko and her fellow researchers hope that by having a better understanding of how gut bacteria influence immune function and overall health, future health care may include examining a person's gut bacteria and prescribing probiotics in addition to antibiotics to help correct any gut imbalances. It's also a good idea to take a probiotic supplement daily to help keep up the numbers of helpful microbes that populate your digestive tract. While good hygiene and sanitation are definitely important to everyday health, peoples' overreliance on antibacterial cleansers, antibiotics, and fear of all things germ-related may be largely responsible for many health challenges that can be traced back to gut imbalances. That's why it's important to make the distinction that while there are germs that can cause illness, there are also bacteria that help you in your day-today life. So be good to your gut because the benefits are worth it.