A new Japanese study suggests that gut bacteria play a key role in the maturation of the immune system. Where the gut bacteria are not optimal, some people can be prone to certain diseases.
Specifically, the research has shown that the chemical butyrate, a by-product of the digestion of dietary fiber by gut microbes, acts as a switch that boosts the immune system by inducing the production of disease fighting T cells in the gut.
This was shown from studies in mice. The study showed that mice suffering from colitis see their levels of T cells increase and their symptoms improve after administration of butyrate as part of their diet. The study concluded that the reason butyrate helped to reduce inflammation was because it acted as an energy source for cells lining the colon.
This findings, according to Medical News, are important because people suffering with inflammatory bowel disease lack butyrate-producing bacteria and have lower levels of butyrate in their gut. Linking the two observations together suggests that taking butyrate might help those suffering from conditions like Crohn's disease.
The research was undertaken at the RIKEN Center for Integrative Medical Sciences in Japan. The findings have been published in the science journal Nature, in a paper titled “Commensal microbe-derived butyrate induces the differentiation of colonic regulatory T cells”.