Functional medicine dysbiosisThe gut plays an essential role in our immune function as well as digesting and absorbing our food. The intestinal barrier provides an effective barrier from pathogenic bacteria as well a healthy environment for beneficial bacteria.

Our immune system has a tendency to decline with age which makes us more susceptible to infections as well as increasing our risk of other diseases.

Researchers and clinicians in Italy have performed the first detailed study of how our gastrointestinal tract changes as we age and how this impacts our overall health. They compared samples from patients of different ages who had routine endoscopic exams. They found that as we age the gut has an increase in interleukin 6 (IL-6) which causes the immune system to release IL-6 and trigger inflammation.

Further experiments have demonstrated that the increased levels of IL-6 directly lead to increased intestinal permeability with no physical differences seen in its structure. They also showed there was an association with a decreased immune response to microbes as we age, which may contribute to our increased susceptibility to infection as we get older.

Whenever you have inflammation present, the tight junctions and intestinal mucosa can become damaged causing gaps in the lining of the GI tract also known as “leaky gut”. We have to remember that the gastrointestinal lining is only one cell layer thick with the immune system on the other side. Toxic byproducts in the digestive tract can be absorbed into the bloodstream. The molecules of food and toxins can make their way through the GI lining and then eventually affect other systems throughout the body. Controlling inflammation is critical to prevent inflammatory bowel diseases as well as many autoimmune disorders.

It is critical to address what triggers these changes in gut permeability, immune response (ie. IL-6). Gut permeability can be affected by stress, gastrointestinal infections, NSAIDS, and alcohol. Supplements like L-glutamine and saccharomyces boulardii have many benefits on overall health including their significant effects on intestinal barrier function. Glutamine is the main fuel of the colonocytes and saccharomyces boulardii has powerful effects protecting the intestinal epithelial cells, maintaining intestinal barrier function, and increasing sIgA secretion. This is significant since sIgA is the body’s primary immune response. In addition, vitamin D has an immunomodulatory effect on regulatory T cells.

Environmental triggers that can cause inflammation are gluten and other food sensitivities as well as anything else coming in with the food such as toxins or molds. In addition, it is essential to assess the nutrient status of the person. This can be antioxidant status, vitamins, essential fatty acids, vitamin D, etc. Antioxidants like ubiquinone and essential fatty acids like fish oils can decrease IL-6.

The gastrointestinal microbiome changes as we age which interacts with the gut lining as well as the immune system. There are specialty labs that can assess the gastrointestinal microbiome by looking at the relative abundance and diversity of beneficial bacteria. In general a high diversity of beneficial bacteria is associated with healthy states of health whereas a low diversity is associated with many chronic conditions. These labs also test digestion and absorption markers, inflammatory and immune markers, and gastrointestinal infections and parasites.

Understanding and investigating into these factors will help us find better ways of preventing chronic conditions. For example, If there is a dysbiosis, we can manipulate this through antimicrobials, proteolytic enzymes, probiotics, and other nutrients as a way to stay healthy as we get older.

Source: Angela Man, Eugenio Bertelli, Silvia Rentini, Mari Regoli, Graham Briars, Mario Marini, Alastair Watson, Claudio Nicoletti. Age-associated modifications of intestinal permeability and innate immunity in human small intestine. Clinical Science, 2015; DOI:10.1042/CS20150046

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