How your eating pattern can improve your gut health
Eating and regular meal patterns have been shown to ramp up the gut's protective instincts, improving gut health and protecting against infection, a new study has found.
Researchers from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute have found immune cells in the gut "activate" when food is consumed, acting as a guard against bad bacteria, infection and viruses.
The cells, called innate lymphoid cells, kick into gear when a hormone in the intestine is released by a nerve cell, acting as an "on" switch for the gut's protective system.
The hormone, the vasoactive intestinal peptide, then sparks a "chain reaction" in the body, studies in animals have found.
The response was also found to ramp up in anticipation at meal times in a "cycadian" type pattern, meaning regular eating habits could be the key to a healthy gut.
The research, led by Professor Gabrielle Belz and Cyril Seillethas, has "opened a lot of questions" around developing prevention mechanisms for chronic inflammation and diseases such as irritable bowel and Crohn's disease.
"It's a great study, it's a great outcome and there are so many questions now that we can directly align the tools to work out what the correlations are with human disease," Prof Benz said.
Prof Belz said the response could explain a person's susceptibility to "getting sick" when they change their regular routine.
"Our work has shown cells are regulated cyclically," she said.
"There's lots of experiments we need to do now, but obviously it disrupts that normal cycling and it could leave a person open to infection.
"When you travel and there is a time difference you often get an upset stomachs and we just assume it's because of different foods … but it could be because we are changing the synchrony of this gut activation pathway - we don't know how long it takes to reset in the new time zones."
Dr Seillet said understanding the inner workings of gut protection and tissue repair could be useful in preventing early-stage gut inflammation.
"The next steps of our research include gaining a molecular understanding of what properties of food are responsible for starting the process of protective immunity," he said.