In the scientific publication, “Gut Microbiome, Metabolome, and Allergic Disease,” in the 66th volume of Allergology International, authors Hirata and Kunisawa explain how they have found a link between the food you eat and the products made by your gut bacteria that affect your overall health. This is a summary and interpretation of their findings.
NUT-FREE, GLUTEN-FREE, DAIRY-FREE…
How many times a week do you encounter a person with some sort of food allergy, or allergies in general? For me, it’s daily. Maybe they are lactose intolerant, or gluten-free, or peanut-free. Some people cannot eat raw vegetables without gas and bloating. My parents say, “it never used to be this way.” Back when I was starting kindergarten, we didn’t have “nut free” classrooms, or hallways. Schools could have ice cream parties without thinking twice about who cannot have lactose (or, really the protein casein that is in milk). How did we get here? What has changed in our society in one generation?
Now that we find ourselves at the end of 2017, fully in the middle of a tsunami wave of new scientific information on gut microbes and how they directly affect our health, researchers are building a case for the connection between the food we eat and the impact it has on our gut microbes. These gut microbes break down your food and make products from it. Some of the products are healthy and some are bad. This study shows what is happening in the guts of people with allergies, and especially food allergies.
ANIMALS IN THE FOREST
You may already know that there are trillions of bacteria and microbes in your gut. They outnumber your total human body cells by 10 to 1. Yes, you are more bacteria than you are human! What you may not know is that the microbes in your gut are living in their own ecosystem together. They all talk, make products, help or hurt each other and more. Imagine it like a forest ecosystem. There are “wolves” and “deer” in there, along with all the “trees and plants”, so to speak. We now know that people who have food allergies usually have low gut species diversity. This means, they have less "animals in the forest" of their gut. Anyone in Biology can tell you that diversity is always good. It always works better and produces more life.
To understand how this all works, you first need a short lesson on two types of cells in your immune system. They are TH2 cells (stands for T helper 2) and TReg cells (stands for T regulatory or T suppressor). The TH2 cells are like the cheerleaders at a Pep Rally. They clap and shout and get everyone riled up and ready to take action. The T regulatory cells are like a sweet mom that is calming her crying baby by whispering, “ssshhh, it’s okay, go to sleep.” Do you see the difference? One type sounds the alarm and wakes up your immune system. The other type calms it down. What if I told you that the food you eat day after day is indirectly building up the "cheerleader T cells" and holding down the "quiet mom cells"? Great for a football game, but bad for your health!
DEPRESSED? MIGHT BE A “GUT THING”
When you eat food, it goes into your gut and is broken down by your digestive enzymes and the microbes that live there. Those microbes make products from that break down. Usually, the products are good. For example, the amino acid L-tryptophan (found in foods like turkey, eggs, and fish) is broken down into Serotonin (the brain chemical that makes us feel happy, promotes sleep and the feeling of being full). We now know that 90% of Serotonin is made in the gut. It travels to your brain along the gut-brain axis that joins the two. So, if you are suffering from depression or a related issue, your gut is the first place you may want to look to fix the problem.
OMEGA-3 FISH OIL
Omega-3 oils (found in certain plants and wild-caught fish) are “long chain fatty acids” (LCFA’s). Certain types of lactic acid-producing bacteria, like the Lactobacillus genus, are able to break down the Omega-3 oils into products that are anti-allergic and anti-inflammatory. In fact, studies show that certain LCFA’s may help colitis patients by working to repair the intestinal holes that exist in "leaky gut."
ALLERGY, ECZEMA & ASTHMA
If you have certain bad microbes growing in your gut, they can break down your food into products that block these good, anti-inflammatory products. This can lead to eczema, asthma and contact dermatitis. In fact, studies have found that we can now predict, from a stool sample, if a newborn child (age 3 months) has a risk for developing allergy and asthma as they grow. Studies show that these children have a decrease in 3 types of bacteria: Bifidobacterium, Akkermansia, and Faecalibacterium. They also have an increase in Candida and Rhodotorula yeast species. Here’s where it gets interesting. This combination of microbes helps to increase TH2 immune cells (the “cheerleaders”) and decrease the T regulatory cells (the “quiet moms”). The end result is an immune system that has a daily “Pep Rally” with no “ssshhh” and is tweaked too high. Allergy, eczema and asthma can be the result.
VITAMIN B9 TO THE RESCUE
What can you do if this describes you or a loved one? The good news is that you have some control! Research shows that the T regulatory “quiet mom” cells respond to vitamin B9 (Folate). It helps them. Folate-rich foods include the “beans and the greens.” Folate can be found in lentils, pinto, garbanzo, black, navy beans and more. It can also be found in spinach, asparagus, turnip greens and broccoli. In fact, most fruit or vegetable (fiber) in your diet causes the good bacteria to make short chain fatty acids. This good product has been shown to be anti-allergenic, increasing T regulatory cells (which calm the immune system) and helping to heal the holes in the intestines due to leaky gut. A deficiency in vitamin B9 has been shown to lead to intestinal inflammation.
If you are interested in reading more, this article is based on the following publication:
Hirata, S., and Kunisawa, J. (2017) Gut Microbiome, Metabolome, and Allergic Diseases. Allergology International. 66 (4). Retrieved from: http://www.allergologyinternational.com/article/S1323-8930(17)30086-2/fulltext
Kenda Rigdon, Ph.D. Nutrition Sciences Research Associate, Wife, Mother of 3 and Enthusiast for all things Microbiome and gut related!
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Check out this blog in the April, 2018 edition of the Birmingham Metro magazine: b-metro.com/b-yourself-kenda-rigdon/34337/
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