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Gut reaction: How eating may activate immune reaction in your body

Eating activates immune cells in the gut that protect against pathogens and preserve gut health. Immunity in the gut also ramps up at regular mealtimes in anticipation of eating and a potentially increased risk of infection. @Shutterstock

According to a new study, eating activates immune cells in the gut that protect against pathogens and preserve gut health. Read on to know more.

Experts have long pointed out that your gut holds the key to your overall health. A healthy gut can help your body fight off invading pathogens and lower your risk of many diseases. Many studies point to the importance of maintaining the balance of healthy bacteria in your gut. This is essential for a long and disease-free life. Now a new study has revealed how the gut's protective mechanisms ramp up significantly with food intake, and at times of the day when mealtimes are anticipated based on regular eating habits. Researchers from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute found that eating causes a hormone called VIP to kickstart the activity of immune cells in response to potentially incoming pathogens or 'bad' bacteria. The researchers also found that immunity increased at anticipated mealtimes indicating that maintaining regular eating patterns could be more important than previously thought.

Improving gut health crucial to fight diseases

With the rise in conditions associated with chronic inflammation in the gut, such as irritable bowel and Crohn's disease, a better understanding of the early protective mechanisms governing gut health could help researchers to develop prevention strategies against unwanted inflammation and disease. The study from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute was published in the journal Nature Immunology.

Eating kickstarts chain reaction in gut

Eating activates immune cells in the gut that protect against pathogens and preserve gut health. Immunity in the gut also ramps up at regular mealtimes in anticipation of eating and a potentially increased risk of infection. Understanding the complex interactions between eating, gut health and inflammation could aid in the development of prevention and treatment strategies for chronic inflammatory diseases.

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When you eat, nerves in the intestine produce a hormone called vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) to 'switch on' a protective response in the gut. This food-induced activation of VIP is vital for a subset of immune cells called ILC3s to mount a protective response in the gut. ILC3s secrete interleukin-22 (IL-22), which swings into protective action to defend against pathogens and maintain tissue integrity. A deficiency in VIP limits the production of IL-22, which in turn negatively impacts the immune system's ability to prevent unwanted inflammation.

Regular meals key to gut health

The 'circadian clock' genes could enable the gut to ramp up immunity in anticipation of regular mealtimes, say researchers. Baseline gut immunity fluctuated throughout the day based on circadian rhythms and an anticipatory response to regular eating patterns. In other words, gut immunity not only spikes with food intake, but it also rises and falls due to inbuilt cellular machinery regulated by the circadian clock gene Bmal1, which appears to activate immune cells when eating is likely.

Understanding the protective effect

According to researchers, a detailed knowledge about the mechanisms for gut protection and tissue repair could be useful for preventing against early-stage gut inflammation, before full-blown disease occurred. They say that a molecular understanding of what properties of food are responsible for kickstarting the process of protective immunity is important.

(With input from Agencies)

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