What are the most important advances in our understanding of how the gut microbiome and our diet contribute to human health beyond the gastrointestinal milieu in 2020? A new e-book reviews the main discoveries during this year.
Given its implication in important functions like immune response, scientists consider the gut microbiota as an organ as such. We know that the gut microbiota composition evolves from infancy to old age. And that as humans age, its diversity decrease, which has been tied to increase frailty. But what we eat has an impact on the gut microbiota diversity. 2020 has allowed a better understanding of environment-host-microbiome interactions and their influence on health and disease.
How Gut Microbiota Shapes our Immunity
For the first time, researchers have shown that:
- The concentration of different types of immune cells in the blood changes in relation to the presence of different bacterial strains in the gut.
- The timing and sequence of exposure to certain members of the commensal microbiota in early life influence subsequent immunity.
In other words, intestinal microbes sensitize the central immune tissues to produce antibodies if a microbe gets into the bloodstream. So gut microbes shape our antibodies before we are infected by pathogens.
A review from experts explores current understanding around how the microbiome – the microorganisms and their genes – may protect against invasive viruses and discusses where the science stands for probiotics to have a positive impact. It suggests that manipulation of the microbiome with probiotics may decrease the risk of viral infection and promote recovery.
Strategies for Modulating the Gut Microbiota
Scientists believe that microbiome-targeted interventions with food and/or dietary supplements constitute a powerful and tantalizing tool for the prevention and treatment of different diseases. One of the most studied formulations is probiotics, and 2020 has seen a new update of their clinical benefits to which the e-book gives access. Other strategies for modulating the gut microbiome include diet (certain fibres, fermented foods) and other prebiotics. Besides, the definition of synbiotics has been updated in 2020: “A synbiotic is a mixture comprising live microorganisms and substrate(s) selectively utilized by host microorganisms that confers a health benefit on the host.”
According to researchers, we are still quite far from microbiome-targeted precision medicine, but we are surely on the right scientific path to developing an exhaustive set of tools and clinical knowledge to all the current gaps.
Intense Exercise, Fermented Food and Gut Microbiota
Advances in 2020 also concern the effect of intense exercise on gut microbiota. A new review shows positive correlations between gut taxa and exercise. Exercise appears to have beneficial effects on microbiota diversity, mucosal immunity, barrier function and producing substances that can increase performance and health. However, high exercise training workloads and competition events are linked with transient immune perturbation.
Finally, the e-book highlights that the regular consumption of fermented foods can lead to modifications within the gut microbiota’s environment that could promote health. Some lactic acid bacteria present in fermented foods may act as probiotic and contribute to human health.
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