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Guarding Your Lungs from Within: Gut Health and Pneumonia Risk

Our body surfaces are covered in a gamut of microbes including bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Together, these are called the microbiota. And if we are to name the hegemon that contains the most diverse and dense population of these minuscule creatures, it is our gut. It is interesting to note that the microorganisms found in the gut can affect our overall health by affecting other organs, such as the lungs.

KJ Staff
Representational image
Representational image

This paves the way to understanding lung health and the risk of developing respiratory diseases such as pneumonia through the lens of gut microbiota.

Gut – Lung axis

The role of the gut microbiota in resistance to colonization of enteric pathogens is well established. Interestingly, research has also shown that gut microbiota can influence the immunity of distant organs such as the lungs. For example, mice lacking gut microbiota have impaired responses to respiratory infections. It was shown that metabolites such as short-chain fatty acids like acetate, butyrate, and desamino tyrosine secreted by specific gut microbiota diffuse into the blood and reach the lungs where they help prime the immune system to protect from influenza infection.

The Burden of Pneumonia

Pneumonia claims millions of lives every year, particularly affecting the most vulnerable populations, such as children, the elderly, and people with compromised immunity. With over 2.5 million deaths in 2019 alone, pneumonia is a leading cause of death in children under the age of five. Adults are not immune to its impact either, with pneumonia being a significant contributor to hospitalization and mortality worldwide.

Gut Microbiome and Pneumonia

Traditionally, pneumonia risk factors have centered on respiratory hygiene, vaccination, and addressing comorbid conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma. However, recent studies have shed light on the gut microbiome's influence on pneumonia susceptibility. (Microbiome is the collection of microbes plus their genetic information)

Immune System Support:

A well-balanced gut microbiome contributes to a robust immune system, helping the body ward off infections more effectively. It is increasingly understood that the gut and the respiratory system are interconnected, and a healthy gut can bolster the immune response against pneumonia-causing pathogens.

Microbial Imbalances:

An unhealthy gut microbiome is often characterized by an overgrowth of harmful bacteria and a depletion of beneficial ones. This imbalance can compromise the gut's barrier function, potentially allowing pneumonia-causing pathogens to enter the bloodstream and affect the lungs.

The Role of Gut Microbiome Testing

As our understanding of the gut-lung axis deepens, it becomes evident that gut health is a vital component in pneumonia prevention. Gut microbiome testing can offer individuals insights into the state of their gut health, identifying imbalances and vulnerabilities that may increase their risk of pneumonia. With this information, individuals can take proactive steps to improve their gut health and reduce their susceptibility to pneumonia.

Gut microbiome testing such as that by BugSpeaks (India) and Viome (US) involves the analysis of stool samples to understand what’s cooking inside one’s digestive tract. This analysis provides valuable information about the types and proportions of varied microbes present in the gut, highlighting any imbalances that may be undermining the immune system's effectiveness.

Taking Action for Better Gut Health

Incorporating more fruits, vegetables, and fermented foods into one's diet can foster a balanced gut ecosystem. In addition, probiotic supplements can help restore a healthy gut microbiome. This requires consulting a healthcare provider for guidance on choosing the right probiotics for one’s specific needs. Moreover, better gut health demands conscious lifestyle adjustments such as managing stress, doing regular exercise, and avoiding excessive antibiotic use.

Takeaway

The gut microbiome plays an unexpected but significant role in determining an individual's susceptibility to pneumonia. Gut health should no longer be overlooked as a key component of pneumonia prevention. Gut microbiome testing offers a valuable tool for assessing and addressing one's vulnerability to this life-threatening infection. By taking steps to improve their gut health, people can reduce their pneumonia risks and contribute to the global effort to combat this deadly disease.

This article has been written by Dr. Debojyoti Dhar, Co-founder & Director, Leucine Rich Bio Pvt. Ltd.

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