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In the last few decades, the understanding of the microbiome and its effects on the body’s immune system has grown rapidly. Most recently, new research has shed light on the role of the microbiome—comprised of the trillions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that inhabit the body—in shaping our defences against pathogens and other immune aggressors. This makes the microbiome a potentially powerful ally in the battle to maintain health and wellbeing, but what does the research say about the relationship between microbiota and immunity?
Exploring the Microbiota-Immunity Link: What’s the Evidence?
Scientists now understand that an individual’s microbiota is an integral part of the functioning of their immune system. The composition of the microbiome—which is unique to each individual—influences a range of factors, from nutrient absorption and metabolism to gene expression, inflammation, and immune responses. This has been evidenced in a variety of studies, particularly those looking at the impacts of changes in microbiota composition on the body’s defences.
For instance, research has demonstrated that the loss of certain microbes can weaken the body’s defences, leaving it susceptible to disease. In one study, mice that had been given antibiotics to suppress their microbiota were found to have impaired cytokine production and consequently, lower levels of natural killer cell-mediated immunity. Similarly, other studies have indicated that changes in the composition of the gut microbiome can impact the body’s response to infection and its ability to defend itself against pathogens.
Harnessing Microbiota to Strengthen Our Defences
A growing body of research is focusing on how to harness the power of microbiome-based therapies to support the body’s natural defences. For instance, there has been progress towards the development of probiotic formulations that are tailored to target specific infections and restore the microbiota balance. This has included new formulations of lactic acid bacteria that are able to attack pathogens and thereby strengthen the body’s defences, as well as new microbial cocktails tailored to promote the body’s natural immunity.
In addition, scientists are examining possible methods for manipulating the microbiota to modulate immune responses in certain conditions. For instance, some studies have shown that certain probiotics can help to reduce inflammation and improve the body’s response to infection. Similarly, some prebiotics—substances that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut—have been found to have immunoregulatory effects, which could be beneficial in certain autoimmune diseases.
Uncovering New Ways to Support Immunity with Microbiota
The emerging field of ‘microbiome engineering’ is also looking at ways to use microbial therapies to support the body’s natural immunity. This includes efforts to develop personalized therapeutics that are tailored to an individual’s microbiota and designed to restore balance and bolster their defences. For instance, some studies have shown that microbial cycling—alternating between different types of bacteria—can help to restore the microbiota balance and boost the body’s natural immunity.
How to Unlock the Benefits of Microbiota on Immunity
For individuals who are looking to take advantage of the benefits of microbiota on immunity, there are a number of steps they can take. Firstly, it’s important to ensure that the body’s microbiome is balanced and healthy, and this can be achieved through a combination of dietary changes and probiotic supplementation. Additionally, individuals should be sure to get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and practice mindful relaxation to reduce stress levels, as all of these activities can support a healthy immune system.
What the Latest Research Reveals About Microbiota and Immunity
The latest research provides us with a better understanding of the complex relationship between the body’s microbiome and its immunity. From this, it is clear that the composition of the microbiome plays an important role in the body’s ability to maintain its defences and combat infections. As such, taking steps to ensure that the microbiome is balanced and healthy can prove beneficial in terms of immunity. In addition, the potential for the development of tailored microbial therapies that could help to further bolster the body’s natural defences is an exciting area of research.
In conclusion, the current research suggests that the microbiome can play an important role in our immunity, and that efforts to maintain a balanced and healthy microbiome could be an effective way to strengthen the body’s defences. A range of dietary and lifestyle modifications, as well as probiotic supplementation, may help to achieve this, while research is ongoing into the potential of microbial therapies to support immunity.
- Tian, Wen, et al. “The Gut Microbiota and Host Immune Response.” Advances in Immunology, Academic Press, 23 March 2020, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0065277619300059.
- Nguyen, Ngoc L. “Gut Microbiota and Immune System Crosstalk: Regulation and Implications.” Frontiers in Immunology, Frontiers Media, 1 July 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6608059/.
- De Vrese, Michael, et al. “Probiotics and Prebiotics: Effects on Immunity.” European Journal of Nutrition, S. Karger AG, 2011, www.karger.com/Article/FullText/321797.