Friendly Flora Help Train Your Immune System

By: Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist
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The balance of friendly flora (acidophilus) residing in your digestive tract has a profound effect on your health.  A new study points out that one of the key roles of these friendly flora1 is to train your immune system to be competent, and not hyper-react.  Friendly flora have been shown to reduce skin conditions, allergy, irritable bowel, problems with h.pyloria and Candida albicans, and other problems associated with inappropriate and inflammatory immune system excess (including the development of Type I diabetes).  Friendly flora are needed for healthy metabolism, and children who lack them are much more likely to become obese.

The new study sought to understand mechanisms by which friendly flora work their magic.  The research focused on an important immune cell called a dendritic cell (DC).  Many baby dendritic cells line your digestive tract, residing just underneath the endothelial cells which form the barrier between the contents in your gut and your gut wall lining.  These cells are constantly taking samples of what is in your gut, which trains them how to communicate further to your immune system. 

DCs are very important because they help determine if your immune system will mount an inflammatory response (a T Helper 1 response) or if it will mount a high powered attack against an invader (a T Helper 2 response).  Either response could be needed based on the situation.  The new study shows that it is the friendly flora that provides schooling for the DC cells, leading to a proper immune response.

A lack of friendly flora, or an overabundance of hostile bacteria or Candida albicans, caused DCs to inappropriately initiate an excessive T Helper 1 response leading to allergy and hyper-active immune response – meaning too much inflammation.  For example, an overgrowth of Candida trains these DCs to hyper-react, causing all sorts of trouble.

Friendly flora are depressed by antibiotics, pesticides in food, excess alcohol, junk food, stress, and excessive sugar intake.  Supplemental friendly flora are often needed to help keep digestive contents in healthy balance, in turn helping your immune system do a better job.

Referenced Studies:
  1. ^ Friendly Flora and Dendritic Immune Cells  World J Gastroenterol.  Latvala S, Pietila TE, Veckman V, Kekkonen RA, Tynkkynen S, Korpela R, Julkunen I.

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