Our native immune system is truly amazing in its complexity and ability to continually adapt to an ever changing environment of potential pathogens that could easily colonize and highjack our health if not detected and eradicated quickly. Many people, especially as they age, have a compromised immune response due to negative lifestyle factors including smoking, exposure to environmental and household toxins, stress and especially diet. Up to 80 percent of our initial immune response takes place in our digestive system, and the body uses cues from what we eat to activate essential actions to potential invaders.
Consuming a largely processed food diet that is void of nutrients and flavonoids dulls our immune system and dramatically increases the risk of infection, inflammation and chronic disease. A research team from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute’s Molecular Immunology Division in Australia have published the result of their work in the journal Nature Immunology that demonstrates how eating your greens may be even more important than previously thought, with the discovery that an immune cell population essential for intestinal health could be controlled by leafy greens in your diet.
Leafy greens and crucifers help express digestive genes that boost our innate immune response
A special type of immune cell known as an innate lymphoid cell (ILC) is found throughout the digestive tract and can help protect the body from invading pathogens and also provides a balance between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in the intestine. Additionally ILC’s play an important role in controlling food allergies, inflammatory diseases and obesity, and may even prevent the development of bowel cancers. The team discovered that a gene (T-bet) is responsible for producing these critical immune cells and is expressed by signals fed from the foods we eat.
Lead study author, Dr. Gabrielle Belz noted “In this study, we discovered that T-bet is the key gene that instructs precursor cells to develop into ILCs, which it does in response to signals in the food we eat and to bacteria in the gut.” The researchers found that proteins in leafy green cruciferous vegetables interact with surface cell receptors that switch on T-bet to initiate the innate immune response in the digestive tract. Further, the team determined that ILC’s produce a hormone (interleukin-22) that protects the body from invading bacteria and help maintain a healthy environment in the intestine by balancing bacteria levels, and may also help to resolve cancerous digestive lesions.
Dr. Belz concluded “Our research shows that, without the gene T-bet, the body is more susceptible to bacterial infections that enter through the digestive system. This suggests that boosting ILCs in the gut may aid in the treatment of these bacterial infections.” This research helps to explain why a natural food diet consisting of at least five to nine daily servings of vegetables and fruits is essential to promote optimal health and keep our vital immune systems running at peak efficiency to protect our well-being and longevity.