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  • Covid-19 has encouraged many of us to look at how we might optimise

  • our immune responses, through supplements or superfoods.

  • But is it even possible to alter how the body responds to disease

  • through an immune-boosting pill or by eating blueberries?

  • And what about the people who take it even further?

  • The biohackers experimenting with procedures such as

  • faecal transplants -

  • basically taking someone else's poo as a medicine

  • in an attempt to cure a range of ills.

  • Dangerous experimentation or smart science?

  • The immune system is part of an interconnected system,

  • running all the way through our body.

  • Involving all our tissues, from our skin,

  • all the way through to our toes.

  • And in fact, the gut has one

  • of the largest resident populations

  • of immune cells in our body.

  • Most of the body's immune cells are found in the lining of the intestine,

  • and the microbes in our gut play a crucial role

  • in keeping those immune cells of our body healthy.

  • And they do that by providing the key chemical signals

  • that they get once they digest

  • the good foods that we eat.

  • So a healthy gut microbiome

  • is absolutely critical to a healthy immune system.

  • The immune system is considered to be an organ.

  • But unlike ever other organ in your body,

  • it's one where components

  • of the system

  • can migrate around the body.

  • You don't expect that with cells from your lungs,

  • from your spleen, or any other solid organ.

  • But the beauty of the immune system

  • is it has a property of immuno-surveillance.

  • Immunological surveillance is when the cells of the immune system

  • come together to coordinate a response to an external threat

  • such as disease.

  • For example, your lymph nodes,

  • the glands that swell up when you are sick,

  • are a sign of your immune system at work.

  • We often hear messages encouraging us to boost our immune system.

  • So, could we just take a pill to do that?

  • When you do meet an infectious threat,

  • our immune response has to react quickly -

  • to contain the threat and eradicate it.

  • And you don't want it to stay on, because if it says on, it's damaging.

  • And that is what happens in allergy and autoimmune disease,

  • which are over-reactivity of the immune response.

  • So there is no wonder pill that is going to restore and boost one part

  • of the immune response to help us be super-powered,

  • because it's all so interconnected,

  • and the risks of getting it wrong are really quite dramatic.

  • So, instead of boosting our immune system,

  • we should focus on supporting it.

  • Everything that we know already which is good for our health

  • will also benefit our immune system.

  • More exercise, taken at regular intervals,

  • has been shown to boost your immune function.

  • That's been shown, and that's published data.

  • Unfortunately, the modern lifestyle

  • is not very good for our immune system.

  • Our diets of convenience foods

  • and fatty foods that are low in fibre

  • alongside sedentary lifestyles with little exercise,

  • high stress and not too much sleep - too much screen time.

  • All of these combine to make our immune response

  • not work as it should.

  • Getting enough sleep and reducing stress

  • can help our immune system operate at an optimal level.

  • And even though one blueberry won't work miracles,

  • getting a variety of the right foods, is very important.

  • To help your immunity you need to be feeding up your gut microbes,

  • and the best way to do this is to make them more diverse -

  • give them more species.

  • And I recommend 30 different types of plant a week,

  • which gives you all the fibre you should need.

  • Secondly, you should pick plants to eat that are high in polyphenols.

  • These are the chemicals that are naturally found in plants

  • that are actually rocket fuel for your gut microbes.

  • So things like brightly coloured berries,

  • strong flavours like coffee beans,

  • dark chocolate and even red wine contain polyphenols.

  • So, if what you eat and your gut is so important for your immune system,

  • why are some people transplanting other people's poo

  • into their own stomachs?

  • Faecal microbial transplant or, colloquially, a poo transplant,

  • is taking a sample of a stool from a normal person

  • and putting it into someone who is unwell.

  • This has been done for several decades

  • for very bad infections of the bowel, like Clostridium difficile,

  • and it cures 90% of people.

  • And it's been since started to be used in a number of other conditions.

  • This is a fascinating area of research,

  • but definitely not to be tried at home, says Tim.

  • I think this is an exciting new form of therapy,

  • but it's always best to do this within the confines

  • of a medical clinic,

  • where things can be supervised and the risk of side effects

  • or infection is extremely low.

  • There are some people who take risks and do do it at home,

  • and those risks will be multiplied considerably.

  • There's a lot of hype about faecal transplants,

  • and you mustn't believe people who say that it works with everything,

  • in everybody, it certainly doesn't,

  • and there are many failures in clinical trials.

  • One of the ways we can effectively and safely manipulate

  • our immune responses is through vaccination.

  • What a vaccine is doing is essentially giving you

  • the parts of the germ that will stimulate the immune response,

  • without actually getting the full blown infection.

  • Another thing that we can do,

  • is actually try to switch the immune response off.

  • For some diseases we don't want a powerful immune response,

  • because that's what's causing the damage.

  • This is exactly what's done in diseases like rheumatoid arthritis,

  • multiple sclerosis,

  • or is also being investigated in infections like Covid.

  • The good news is, whilst there's no one magic pill we can take

  • to boost our immune response, the more scientists learn about

  • how our immune system works, the more they can develop

  • new drug treatments and therapies to combat a wide range of diseases.

  • The knowledge of science is actually leading to all sorts of wonderful

  • new possibilities to help treat us and win the war against infection.

Covid-19 has encouraged many of us to look at how we might optimise

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B1 immune immune system immune response system gut response

How what you eat affects your immune system | BBC Ideas

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    Summer posted on 2021/02/18
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