Thursday, August 17, 2017 by Isabelle Z.
When it comes to healthy eating, many of us are willing to put up with some less-than-desirable flavors if it means protecting our body from disease. However, a recent study has shown that some of the most delicious foods in a health-conscious diet have even more benefits than previously believed.
Berries, red wine, dark chocolate and black tea have gotten a lot of praise recently for their flavonoid content. These protective complexes are known for their ability to boost immunity and fight infections. Now, a study has shown that these nutrients are enhanced even further when they interact with a certain type of gut microbe.
The study, which was carried out by researchers at St. Louis’s Washington University School of Medicine, made this interesting discovery while seeking to identify the gut microbes that are responsible for protecting the body against the flu. Previous studies had shown that the gut microbiome might play a role, but it was not known precisely which microbes were involved.
The researchers screened the microbes found in people’s guts to find the one that was responsible for metabolizing flavonoids. They suspected that the microbe known as Clostridium orbiscindens was able to degrade flavonoids and create a metabolite called DAT that can boost interferon signaling, so they gave the metabolite to mice and then infected them with the flu.
While those mice who were given the metabolite did not have as much lung damage from the flu, their viral infection levels were similar to the control mice, leading the scientists to believe that the microbes were not preventing the flu infection itself but rather helping to prevent the immune system from causing harm to the lung tissue. This type of lung damage often leads to serious complications like pneumonia in humans.
This means that instead of merely digesting food, certain microbes in the gut can prevent severe flu infections from taking hold by breaking down the flavonoids found in blueberries, red wine and black tea. Its ability to stave off severe damage from the flu if the interaction takes place before being infected could explain why certain people suffer more from the flu than others; those who eat the right foods and have the right microbes would likely have a better outcome.
The researchers believe this knowledge could be helpful in the fight against the flu because those annual vaccines that people blindly line up for every year do not have a great track record when it comes to effectiveness, nor are they free from side effects. The flu is believed to cause as many as half a million fatalities each year.
The scientists posit that the DAT metabolite could be used to help prevent people from getting very ill should they be infected with the flu, making it more effective than vaccines that only target certain strains of the flu. They are now trying to find out if other gut microbes use flavonoids to affect the immune system, and they’re also looking for ways to increase the levels of the right bacteria in people who do not have enough of these microbes.
Their findings were published in the journal Science.
This means that no matter how many berries you eat or how much red wine or black tea you drink, the right microbes need to metabolize the flavonoids you consume in order to derive the immune-boosting benefits. Nevertheless, foods high in flavonoids remain some of the healthiest choices you can make.