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The Gut-Immune Connection: How T Regulatory Cells Anchor Our Immunity

Written by Portland Clinic of Natural Health on September 5, 2023

The human body is an intricate interplay of systems, and recent research has thrown the spotlight on a remarkable relationship: the gut's role in shaping our immunity. At the heart of this dynamic are T regulatory cells (Tregs), pivotal players in maintaining immune tolerance and preventing autoimmune responses. As evidence mounts, it's becoming clear that a balanced gut is essential for a balanced immune response.

A Peek into T Regulatory Cells

Tregs are a subset of T cells, critical components of our adaptive immune system. Their primary role is maintaining tolerance to self-antigens and preventing autoimmune diseases. In simpler terms, Tregs are like the peacekeepers of our immune system, ensuring it doesn't overreact and attack our own cells. (1)

The Gut: A Factory for Tregs

The gut is not just a digestive organ. It's home to trillions of microbes, collectively known as the gut microbiota, and this microbial ecosystem profoundly influences our immune system.

Site of Induction

The gut, especially the large intestine, houses a variety of specialized immune zones. It's here that certain beneficial bacteria interact with our immune cells, promoting the differentiation of naïve T cells into Tregs.

Microbial Influence

Certain strains of gut bacteria, notably those from the Clostridia and Bacteroides groups, have been found to promote the induction of Tregs in the gut. These bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) like butyrate, which play a role in fostering Treg development. (2)

Gut Imbalance and Immune Repercussions

When the gut microbiota is out of balance, a condition termed dysbiosis, there can be a cascading effect on our immunity.

Reduced Treg Induction

Dysbiosis can diminish the populations of beneficial bacteria that aid in Treg production. With fewer Tregs, there's a greater risk of immune overactivity.

Inflammation

An imbalanced gut can lead to increased permeability, often dubbed 'leaky gut.' This allows undesirable substances to cross into the bloodstream, potentially triggering inflammation and further compromising Treg function.

Autoimmune Disorders

A diminished Treg function, combined with an overactive immune response, can set the stage for autoimmune conditions where the body mistakenly targets its own cells.

Our Immune Health Depends on Our Gut Health

The profound link between our gut and immune system underscores the importance of maintaining gut health. It's not just about digestion; it's about the very foundation of our immune balance. Consuming a diverse, fiber-rich diet, and considering probiotics, can foster a healthy microbiota. In an age where immune health is paramount, nurturing our gut becomes a priority. Always consult with holistic healthcare professionals, such as licensed naturopathic doctors, when making decisions about gut and immune health.

Resources:

  1. Figliuolo da Paz VR, Jamwal DR, Kiela PR. Intestinal Regulatory T Cells. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2021;1278:141-190. doi: 10.1007/978-981-15-6407-9_9. PMID: 33523448; PMCID: PMC9970157.
  2. Atarashi K, Tanoue T, Shima T, Imaoka A, Kuwahara T, Momose Y, Cheng G, Yamasaki S, Saito T, Ohba Y, Taniguchi T, Takeda K, Hori S, Ivanov II, Umesaki Y, Itoh K, Honda K. Induction of colonic regulatory T cells by indigenous Clostridium species. Science. 2011 Jan 21;331(6015):337-41. doi: 10.1126/science.1198469. Epub 2010 Dec 23. PMID: 21205640; PMCID: PMC3969237.

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