It has often been said that the key to good health is in how well our digestive system works. Take note of how many probiotic commercials you see in a sitting. A healthier gut leads to a healthier, happier you is a widely accepted belief. It also appears that science is putting that theory to the test in ways you might not have considered.
The Microbiome of the Digestive System
Everyone carries a host of bacteria in their intestines. These bacteria modify the substances that move through your digestive tract, creating the vitamins and other compounds that are then absorbed by your cells and used to fight inflammation or infection. Not everyone’s gut microbiome is the same. Some are much less healthy than others, and this can affect your immune system.
Gut Health & Mosquito-Borne Illnesses
Since 2013, millions of Americans have been infected with Chikungunya, a virus transmitted to humans by mosquitoes, however about half of those people never show the first symptom. Others may develop a fever and joint pain for approximately a week, and 10-30 percent may develop a debilitating form of arthritis that lasts for months or even years. This is the case in many viral diseases, according to Dr. Michael S Diamond, MD, Ph.D., and head of a research group at Washington University School of Medicine. Unfortunately, science has never really understood why. The group recently published a study in the journal Cell, in which they researched the connection between gut health and the severity of Chikungunya symptoms. They also looked at how gut health could affect the transmission of the disease, hoping to bridge a gap of understanding.
Studying Mice with Chikungunya
This group of scientists studied mice with varying levels of gut health injected with the Chikungunya virus. Group one had been kept in a sterile environment and had developed no gut microbiome at all; group two featured mice that had been treated with common antibiotics to reduce the bacteria in their gut. The third group included mice with a normal microbiome.
They found that the mice with the compromised microbiome not only became sicker but became sicker more quickly. Looking further, they found that crucial immune cells were impaired in the mice with the abnormal gut microbiome. The researchers then took a bacteria commonly found in humans, that modifies bile acid created in the liver that works to affect immunity, and introduced it into the mice. It improved the immune response and reduced the virus level in the blood and tissue of the mice.
This discovery led to a second theory to test. If there was less virus in the blood, then would less transmit to mosquitoes that feed on the infected mice? They took samples of the blood from the infected mice with each level of gut health and then fed it to test mosquitoes. More than half the mosquitoes that fed on blood from the mice with poor gut health tested positive for the virus while less than a third tested positive after feeding on blood from the mice that had a normal gut microbiome or had been given the human bacteria.
Healthy Gut Microbiome Benefits Immune Response
In the simplest of terms, the mice with the healthiest guts were most likely to avoid the symptoms of the mosquito-borne virus. They were also less likely to pass the virus on to mosquitoes. If this is true in mice, then imagine if a probiotic could be created for humans that had the same effect. Not only could you minimize illness from mosquito-borne disease but help reduce the spread of it within our communities. Let’s look forward to that probiotic commercial.
Be sure to follow the advice of your doctor in regards to your digestive health.
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