Thursday, October 25, 2012

What's the biggest immune organ in our bodies?

Welcome to the the first part of the role of allergy and the intestines.

The intestines of course!  Amazingly, our intestines when stretched out are almost a 1/4 of a mile long.  Just beneath the surface the are collections of lymph nodes (areas where immune reactions are initiated) called peyer's patches and mucosal associated lymph nodes (MALT) and immune cells.  These areas are where our immune system encounters some of the first exposures to bacteria, food, and learns to differentiate safe items from non-safe.  This differentiation is key to maintaining a healthy well functioning immune system.

Bacteria populates our intestines as soon as we are born and plays many critical roles.  Our relationship with gut bacteria is mutually beneficial.  Important functions of the bacteria are helping our bodies develop oral tolerance to food, altering the way the immune system recognizes dangerous pathogens via various pattern recognition, and helping our bodies digest food. The types of bacteria living  in our guts vary depending on our diet (meat versus vegetarian) and where we live in the world. Through these roles, the bacteria receives its own nutrition and a safe place to live.      

So why is this relationship important to our immune system?
  • Our first exposures to food (breast milk or formula, vegetarian versus meat based diet) may influence the types of bacteria living in us
  • Gut bacteria help teach immune cells which patterns in nature are safe or not safe
  • It's possible that early use of antibiotics changes the numbers and types of bacteria we have in our guts and ultimately may affect the way the immune system develops
Our understanding of these concepts is still in its infancy.  Stay tuned from more information as it's available.

No comments:

Post a Comment