Nottingham, 31 December (The Conversation) Our guts are home to a host of microbes, including bacteria, fungi and viruses. Collectively, we refer to this as the microbiome.
Despite their small size, these microbes have a major impact on our health and well-being. In fact, the microbiome is often referred to as the “second brain” due to its extensive relationship with the body’s organs and systems.
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One of the roles microbes play in our gut is to support immune function. They help control local and systemic inflammation, the process by which the immune system protects us from harmful pathogens.
So it’s not surprising that studies suggest that the composition of gut bacteria may influence the severity of COVID infection. At the same time, evidence is starting to suggest that COVID infection may affect the balance of gut bacteria, which may go some way to explain why symptoms persist in some people after COVID infection.
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The microbes in our gut provide important signals for our immune response throughout the body, including in our lungs. A “healthy” gut microbiome contains a wide range of bacteria, but it’s not the same for everyone. Previous research has shown that a healthy gut microbiome can improve immune responses to respiratory infections by modulating immune cells and messages.
On the other hand, there is evidence that a poor gut bacterial composition increases the susceptibility of the lungs to influenza infection and leads to reduced bacterial clearance from the lungs of mice.
For COVID, the composition of the gut microbiome also appears to influence the course of the disease. Research has shown a link between microbiome profiles and levels of inflammatory markers in COVID patients, with patients with a poor gut bacterial mix showing signs of excess inflammation. This suggests that the microbiome influences the severity of COVID infection by influencing the immune response.
Just as the makeup of our gut bacteria appears to affect how we respond to COVID, the reverse is also true — a COVID infection may affect the makeup of our gut bacteria. Specifically, COVID seems likely to tip the balance between “good” and “bad” microbes in the human microbiome.
Research has shown significant differences in the gut microbiomes of COVID patients and healthy people. We saw a reduction in bacterial diversity in the gut of COVID patients – so the species range was smaller and there were significant differences in the bacterial species present.
Notably, the scientists observed a reduction in COVID patients of a type of flora called commensal bacteria, which act on the immune system to help keep pathogens at bay. This may increase our risk of contracting other viruses post-COVID. At the same time, there appeared to be an increase in various opportunistic pathogens known to cause infection.
This “imbalance” is known as dysbiosis, and these changes have been shown to persist in patients up to 30 days after infection.
Recent studies have shown that gut microbiota dysbiosis is associated with the entry of gut bacteria into the bloodstream during COVID infection. In mice, COVID caused changes in various parameters related to the permeability of the intestinal barrier, meaning that things could theoretically pass through the intestinal wall more easily.
In the same study, some bacteria in the gut had migrated into the bloodstream in 20% of human COVID patients. This group had a higher risk of developing secondary infections of the bloodstream.
Research now also suggests that post-COVID dysbiosis may lead to long-term COVID, with gut dysbiosis being more prevalent in patients with long-term COVID symptoms. This makes sense, since dysbiosis appears to leave the body in a state of high and constant inflammation — something that has been linked to chronic COVID symptoms.
support your immunity
As we learn more about our gut microbes and their role in inflammation, how can you help keep your immune system healthy to protect yourself from COVID and other infections?
Certain nutrients, including vitamins A, C, D, and E, as well as iron, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids, all contribute positively to the immune response against viral infections.
A Mediterranean diet rich in vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber has an anti-inflammatory effect on the gut. Interestingly, a bacterial strain called Faecalibacterium prausnitzii was key to immune regulation. It is usually low in Western diets but high in Mediterranean diets.
Ideally, you should avoid eating too much refined grains, sugar, and animal fats, which can all increase inflammation in the body.
Probiotics, supplemental mixtures of live bacteria, may also be beneficial. A mixture of bacterial strains Lactobacillus plantarum and Pediococcus lactis was shown to reduce the amount of virus detected in the nose and lungs, as well as the duration of symptoms in COVID patients.
This combination also significantly increased the production of COVID-specific antibodies, suggesting that the probiotics act directly by interacting with the immune system, rather than merely altering the composition of the gut microbiome.
Finally, moderate exercise can also help support the immune system in its fight against COVID. (dialogue)
(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from a Syndicated News feed, the content body may not have been modified or edited by LatestLY staff)