Inflammation, Immunity, and the Gut: Part 1
Viome’s roots originated in the growing evidence that chronic disease stemmed from the gut. You might call it a ‘gut instinct’ but research is constantly unmasking complex relationships between the state of our gut and that of the rest of our body.
But how did it start? How does our gut health, and that of our gut microbiome, really impact chronic diseases? Although there is no way (especially in science!) that there is just one answer, scientists have long suspected that systemic inflammation might be a sort of skeleton key.
Disease doesn’t occur overnight, for example you don’t wake up one morning and ‘catch’ diabetes. It requires time, significant environmental assault, and epigenetic changes that result in life-altering damage. Long-term exposure to inflammation within the body sets the mood for these changes. The same mechanisms created to help our bodies fight infection and heal, end up causing significant harm. But although research points to inflammation, it’s simply a symptom of a much larger problem. In this series, we’ll take a comprehensive look at our immune system and just how our gut plays an essential role in mediating inflammation. From there, we’ll take a look at the consequences of inflammation in our blood, and lastly - how it interacts with our brain. For this special 3-part series, be prepared to learn just how inflammation influences disease, and what you can do to reduce the levels of inflammation within you.
Our Immune System: Friend or Foe?
These days, ‘inflammation’ has a negative connotation – but we wouldn’t be alive without it. At its core, inflammation is a defense mechanism that helps us heal and fight infection. In the short-term, inflammation translates to the immune system’s response to trauma. When damage or foreign molecules are found in our body, our immune system responds by sending out a diverse array of soldier immune cells. These soldiers are responsible for defending, combatting, and healing. Their first phase of defense is often referred to as ‘acute’ inflammation and disappears shortly after the wound or pathogen is taken care of.
But like all things in the body, the key to a healthy immune response is balance. As in the tale of Goldilocks, our immune system should not be responding too much, or too little. An immune response that is “just right” should be in the middle and balanced to defend against foreign invaders. It should complement the healing process rather than create too little of a response or entirely too much.
However, if something triggers too much of an immune response or causes it to linger about, things can get a little sticky. In short, that’s part of the problem. The immune cells begin to clump together and get stuck. It becomes difficult for them to clear out of a problem area. Their impressive ability to consume invading bacteria becomes our downfall as they start to digest our own tissue. And with that trigger still hanging about, more and more immune cells get called to action. They begin circulating in our blood and affecting other areas. This is typically what we refer to as ‘systemic inflammation’ or ‘whole system circulating’ inflammation.
But how does it all start? And where does the gut get involved?
To answer that, we have to take a deep dive into the microscopic world of our digestive system and find out more about the origins of our impressive immune cells.
The Gut Houses 70% of Our Immune Cells
By now, you might be a bit more familiar with just how close our immune system is to our gut. The GALT – gut-associated lymphoid tissue – contains not just 70% of our immune cells, but includes 80% of our plasma cells responsible for IgA antibody production. And their location is no coincidence.
The fastest way for something foreign to get into our body is by entering in through our digestive system. From our mouth to our stomach - if a pathogen doesn’t degrade in our highly acidic digestive juices, it finds its way into our digestive tract.
The gut lining of our digestive tract is made of a single layer of epithelial cells. This very thin layer helps our body more readily absorb nutrients post digestion. Conversely, if damage occurs or a pathogen breaks through the line – it’s only a very short distance to our blood. Having our immune system right next to this delicate entry point makes initiating an immune response a little more convenient. Additionally, our gut microbiome that has grown and flourished inside of us prefers a happy host (what better way to keep them healthy and fed?). Simply put, our gut microbiome has evolved a healthy relationship with our immune system. Scientists have documented various signals exchanged between the two systems shown to boost our immune response to invasive microbes. In many cases, this complex messaging system is essential for a proper immune response.
With a healthy and balanced microbial system, messages are properly sent and received. Unfortunately, the world is facing a profound realization: our western diet practices have negatively affected these messages. Furthermore, our gut microbiome does more than just call our immune system to action – it also can have a profound influence on systemic immune responses. An imbalanced gut microbiome may impact how well immune cells move and their ability to defend.
Moreover, dysbiosis of our gut microbiome makes our gut ecosystem less healthy. The normal maintenance of our gut lining is harmed and the thin layer of epithelial cells between our digestive tract and our blood system becomes compromised. You may know this as ‘leaky gut syndrome’ which produces little gaps or holes that allow microbes to pass through. Inside our gut, our immune system has a healthy relationship with our gut microbes. But once they pass into our blood and look for a new home in other tissues – it doesn’t spell out a positive response.
Instead, gut dysbiosis has multi-faceted consequences on our immune system: it reduces the typical crosstalk to keep it operating normally and allows the migration of those microbes to areas they don’t belong.
In this way, our immune response confronts an alarming realization. It must tackle invasive microbes in our blood and combat its own growing, dysregulated presence. In short, an imbalanced gut microbiome is often the foundational culprit of systemic inflammation.
How Viome’s Immune System Health score works
Because Viome provides tools to Measure your body’s unique biology on a molecular level, you’re able to check in with your body and immune response, find out how efficiently your body is operating. With your health scores, we show you the areas that need attention and can support them with our precise nutritional recommendations to help regain optimal health and boost immunity.
Viome’s Health Intelligence™ measures inflammatory activity in both your body’s systems (with a blood sample) and your microbiome (with a stool sample). The Human Gene Expression™ (blood) analysis reveals cellular pathways related to acute or low-grade inflammation, while the Gut Intelligence™ analysis can reveal microbial or GI factors.
If your Immune System Health score is not optimal, it means that your immune system's preparedness for invading bacteria or viruses needs support. We may recommend specific foods or Precision Supplements™ that address harmful microbial activities, stimulate anti-inflammatory nutrients (like the short-chain fatty acids produced by the gut microbiome), or suppress pro-inflammatory molecules or allergy-related reactions in the body.
Your Immune System Health score is calculated using several different Functional Health Scores, all of which have influence over the levels of immune response in your body:
Inflammatory Activity to measure microbial activity that contribute to or reflect inflammation in your gut environment,
Cellular Stress to measure pathway activities that either lead to or are reflective of cellular stress, damage, and dysfunction,
Immune System Activation to measure whether or not your immune system is over or under-functioning, and
Gut Lining Health to measure the health of the mucosal layer that protects your gut.
All these scores and over 25 more are included with our Health Intelligence. Begin your journey to better health, wellness and immunity today!
Stay tuned for our next installment: Inflammation, Immunity, and Your Blood: Part 2!
The information on the Viome website is provided for informational purposes only and with the understanding that Viome is not engaged in rendering medical advice or recommendations. Viome provides this educational information to share the exciting developments being reported in the scientific literature about the human microbiome and your health. Viome products are not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.