Beyond Digestion to Immunity Enhancement
by Deborah A. Martinez
The function of the human gastrointestinal (GI) tract goes beyond digestion and absorption of consumed nutrients. According to many experts, almost 70 percent of the body’s immune system cells are found in the wall of the gut. This fact underscores the importance of a healthy GI tract in supporting the immune system of the body.
Along with immune cells, trillions of microorganisms (microbiota) reside in the human gut. A mutually beneficial alliance between immune cells and a diverse population of microbiota in the intestine is essential for an efficient immune response. This symbiotic relationship creates the best environment for the body to combat challenges to the immune system. Conversely, when the gut microbes are depleted, less diverse, or lose function, the beneficial collaboration they have with the immune cells in the gut becomes diminished.
In their review, The Gut Microbiome: Relationships with Disease and Opportunities for Therapy, authors Durak and Lynch discuss disorders occurring in the gut as well as in other organ systems. All diseases are associated with, at least in part, a change in the symbiosis between gut microbes and immune cells. Some metabolic derangements also have been found to be linked to disruptions in the gut microbiota. These observations are creating an opportunity for new treatments for many chronic diseases.
The gut microbiota also has a role in enhancing the immune system’s response to therapies for cancers. Dr. Li Zhang, a researcher from the University of New South Wales, and her colleagues commanded attention from the scientific community with their review of multiple cancer treatment studies. They found medications were more effective in patients when certain bacteria were present in the gut than when these bacteria were absent. These studies concluded that certain bacterial species in the gut improved the response patients had to the anti-cancer therapies.
Who knew 20 to 30 years ago that gut microorganisms played such an important role in helping our immune system keep us healthy? As more of this information becomes available, the factors that keep our gut and microbiota healthy, such as diet, will have even more significance. The good news is that we have personal control over our diet. A gut-friendly diet requires no visits to the doctor and no prescriptions. All it may require is a little more education and discipline.Deborah Martinez, M.D., is a retired surgeon and owner of Credible Complementary Therapy located at 2020 E. 29th Ave., Spokane. For more information or to make an appointment, call 509-724-3946 or visit CredibleComplementaryTherapy.com.