Gut bacteria ferment the dietary fibres contained in them and fatty acids enter the blood as a result, influencing the immune response in the lungs. This has been shown by a research project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).
In the West, an increasing number of people have developed allergic asthma in the past fifty years. But dietary habits have also changed during the same period: fruit and vegetables are playing an ever smaller role in people's diets.
Now new results suggest that these two developments are not merely simultaneous, they are also causally linked. A team of researchers led by Benjamin Marsland from Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) has shown in experiments with mice (*) that the lack of fermentable fibres in people's diet paves the way for allergic inflammatory reactions in the lungs.
When the researchers exposed the mice to an extract of house dust mites, the mice with the low-fibre food developed a stronger allergic reaction with much more mucus in the lungs than the mice with the standard diet. Conversely, a comparison between mice on a standard diet and mice who received food enriched with fermentable fibres likewise showed that these dietary fibres have a protective influence.
This protection is the result of a multi-level reaction chain, as Marsland's team has now shown. First the fibres reach the intestine, where they are fermented by bacteria and transformed into short-chain fatty acids. These acids then enter the bloodstream and influence the development of immune cells in the bone marrow. Attracted by the extract of house dust mites, these immune cells wander into the lungs, where they eventually trigger a weaker allergic response.
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