Can bacteria support our immune system?
Do us a favour, close your eyes. What do you see? Is it nothing? Great, we know they’re closed! Now try to picture bacteria. What do you see? Are flying microbes buzzing around your insides? Are bacterial cells colliding at great speed? Perhaps they’re floating gently like jellyfish in the ocean?
Whilst the portrayal of bacteria often paints them as either an unwelcome visitor or some sort of spaced out micronaut, it’s important we understand the important role they serve in supporting our health.
The hygiene hypothesis
It was once proposed that an increased transmission of infectious agents, caused by unhygienic practices in the household, could decrease the incidence of undesirable immune responses to common household stimuli.
We’ve since refined this hypothesis significantly, with the scientific community now favouring the ‘old friends hypothesis’. This theory places importance on increasing exposure to beneficial bacteria, rather than encouraging poor personal hygiene that increases exposure to pathogens.
Your bacterial buds
While the word ‘bacteria’ doesn’t sound particularly friendly, gosh golly they’re important. They influence many aspects of our health, such as our immune and digestive system health.
There are, approximately, an incredible 39 trillion (yes, you read that right) bacterial cells on and inside our bodies, with some types prominent in certain areas and not others. Bifidobacteria, for instance, is found in the blood and mouth; Lactobacillus also features in the mouth, but also the airways, skin, and plays an important role in the urogenital tract; while species of both these genera, plus up to 1000 others, come together for a party in the digestive tract.
How this bacterial party supports your immune health
Given the presence of such volumes of strains, the digestive system microbiome is perhaps unsurprisingly home to the most abundant and diverse population of bacteria. This is important, as bacterial diversity is the hallmark of a healthy microbiome, the trillions of bacteria that live on and inside our bodies and influence many aspects of our health, including our immune function. Incredibly, up to 70 per cent of our body’s immune cells are found in the digestive tract and form an important component of our immune system.
As our immune cells are secreting molecules into the gut to support the body’s immune response, the digestive system microbiome helps to support immune health by simply occupying physical space in the gut in a mechanism known as colonisation resistance.
Supporting your microbiome
Whilst our modern Western lifestyles have been shown to reduce diversity within the digestive system microbiome, there are fortunately still ways to support it:
- A balanced diet filled with fibre and fresh, unprocessed food is a fantastic way to support your bacterial diversity. Fibre-rich foods nourish your bacterial friends and help them reproduce.
- Cultured foods like yoghurt, kimchi and kombucha among others are particularly good sources of living micro-organisms that help to maintain the ‘good’ bacteria in your gut. They supply the microbiome with beneficial bacteria that help the existing community maintain a healthy composition.
- Exercise modifies our gut microbiota in a positive fashion, so get out there and move!
In addition to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and supporting your microbiome with probiotic foods, you could also consider a probiotic supplement containing a diverse range of bacterial species.
Probiotic supplements can contain a variety of naturally sourced, beneficial micro-organisms which provide a health benefit, such as supporting a healthy digestive system microbiome.
The digestive system microbiome contains a diverse range of bacterial species. Life-Space Broad Spectrum Probiotic contains 15 strains of beneficial bacteria and is specifically formulated to support everyday health and wellbeing, maintain digestive and immune system health, support the intestinal microbiome, and support healthy bowel function.
Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. Supplements should not replace a balanced diet.