The human body is remarkable. Some days it hits me right between the eyes!
Before I explain recent findings out of the University of California, Davis[i], some background first. As you may remember from previous posts, the mucus lining of the intestines protects the gut lining from the microbes that inhabit the gut. If that mucus layer is compromised in any way, microbes can activate the immune system of the gut, leading to inflammation of the epithelial lining. And if that lining is in any way compromised, leaky gut can occur, leading to systemic inflammation. The lining of your gut is crucial to good health and normal immune functioning, meaning that bacteria need to be kept away. As most gut microbes are anaerobic (i.e. need a low-oxygen environment to live), until now, scientists believed that the separation between the gut lining and the microbiota was maintained by oxygen being released by cells to prevent microbes from getting too close.
These new findings show that in actuality, to protect itself, the colon lining secretes an enzyme that creates hydrogen peroxide (H202) which is a known disinfectant. The enzyme, NOX1, is a “significant source” of hydrogen peroxide and regulates the location of gut microbes. It essentially acts as a filter to regulate the location of the microbiota: pathogens that use H202 for fuel can only do so when attached directly to the lining of the colon, suggesting that “the body uses the disinfectant to protect the mucosal surface.”[ii] The commensal organisms of the gut remain safely at a distance from the colonic surface.
What does this mean for humans? Says one of the lead researchers, “We need to shift the focus of gut inflammation treatments from targeting bacteria to fixing habitat filters of the host and restoring their functionality.” That is, we have within ourselves the means of controlling infection, dysbiosis and inflammation – we just need to figure out how to get it to work when it becomes dysfunctional. And of course, figure out why it may become dysfunctional in the first place.
As I read about this research, I got to thinking about my post of a couple of weeks ago where I described research from a Swedish University in which the scientists isolated a potential gut bacteria that may be the cause of irritable bowel syndrome in many cases, which they found in the mucus of the gut lining. In that case, scientists were able to treat the infection with antibiotics which, as you know, bring their own set of problems. Imagine if we could treat gut bacterial infections by just boosting the body’s natural defense system?! That’s a pretty cheerful thought! I’ll definitely keep an eye out on further research on this subject.