Although there is some controversy regarding the utility and effectiveness of probiotics, the importance of gut microbiota for our overall health, both physically and mentally, is indisputable. More than 100 trillion bacteria form the gut microbiota that colonize our intestines and protect our health.

Although scientists have shown that our gut microbiota help regulate our immune system, a precise understanding of this mechanism has remained a mystery. Even simple questions, such as how healthy bacteria survive in our gut despite our immune system, which is designed to destroy pathogens, remain unanswered. How does the body distinguish between healthy and unhealthy bacteria?

New research led by Dr. Shipra Vaishnava, a professor of molecular biology and immunology at Brown University in Providence, RI, may have found the answer. The team’s findings indicate that vitamin A plays a fundamental role in preventing the immune system from becoming overactive, allowing certain important bacteria to thrive, and avoiding a variety of illnesses. Their research was published In the Journal Immunity.

Dr.Vaishnava and her colleagues were able to use a mouse model of the microbiome to show that gut microbiota regulate the immune system’s response to assault by a adjusting a protein known as Rdh7, which activates vitamin A in the gastrointestinal tract.

The researchers genetically engineered mice that lacked Rdh7 in the cells that lined their gastrointestinal tracts. Then, via a series of experiments, they were able to show that Rdh7 controls the immune system’s response to bacteria. Further, suppression of this protein was shown to be essential for preventing an overactive immune response. It was also shown to be connected with the liver’s storage of vitamin A.

The researchers expect their findings to help in finding new therapies for inflammatory bowel disease and other autoimmune diseases. In Dr. Vaishnava words:

“This research could be critical in determining therapies in the case of autoimmune diseases, such as Crohn’s disease or other inflammatory bowel diseases, as well as vitamin A deficiency. […] A change in vitamin A status and vitamin A metabolic genes coincides with inflammatory bowel diseases, but we don’t know if this promotes inflammation or not. We hope that adding our finding — that bacteria can regulate how vitamin A is being metabolized in the intestine or stored — could help clarify why the field is seeing what it is seeing.”

Dr. Vaishnava added that the team’s research showed that bacteria control Rdh7 gene expression, which in turn influences the vitamin A status in our bodies.

Vitamin A appears to be a key in maintaining balance in our gastrointestinal tracts.

The takeaway is to note the fundamental role that a nutrient-rich diet plays in creating and maintaining gut microbiota that are healthy and in balance, thus ensuring a healthy immune system.

Beacon of LIFE, in Oceanport, NJ, is a government-approved PACE program created to provide seniors, their family, caregivers and professional health care providers the flexibility to meet their health care needs while continuing to live in their community.

Beacon of LIFE maintains an interdisciplinary team of professionals who give each client the coordinated care they need. Our staff specialize in working with older people, and work with each client and their family to develop the most effective plan of care.

Our care and services allow people who would otherwise need to live in a nursing home to live where they want — in their own communities, in their own homes.

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