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Can Your Gut Microbiome Protect You From Viral Infections?

Loukia Lili, PhD

As society begins to open up, Onegevity wanted to help you understand how your gut plays a role in maintaining your immune system.

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. COVID-19 is a recently discovered virus within the family of coronaviruses that have not been found in humans before and, therefore, does not have a preventive vaccine.

Learn how your gut and its microbial composition plays a role in helping keep you healthy from viruses you may come in contact with.

Many locations in and on our bodies are colonized by diverse microbial communities, called the microbiota. Microbiota can be found in your mouth, lungs, uterus, and on your skin, but the majority reside in your gut. The gut microbiome contains trillions of bacteria, archaea, fungi, and viruses – which far outnumbers the number of human cells we have.1 This vast population of microorganisms is commensal, which means that they coexist with the host cells of the human (you!) in a mutually beneficial relationship.

Our health and wellbeing are connected to the gut microbiome.2 In the gut, microorganisms survive and thrive from the food we eat, and, in return, they help our bodies stay healthy. The gut microbiome not only facilitates the digestion of food, nutrient distribution, and energy production, but it also affects our sleeping patterns, mental state, and mood, and regulates our immune response to various pathogens. The most common invading pathogens are viruses. During their infection process, viruses encounter the commensal microbiota and interact with it.

Depending on the integrity of the gut, its microbiota composition, and through multiple pathways, viral infections can occur or be inhibited within the gut – the body’s first line of defense.3 In general, viruses that infect tissues such as the lungs also influence the intestines by controlling tissue homeostasis, healing, and affecting the outcome of an infection.

Alternatively, the gut microbiome can impact our responses to viruses by influencing immunity. For example, pre-existing antibodies to intestinal bacteria can affect our response to a vaccine, and can make a vaccine less protective to us.4  Research in mice has shown intestinal bacteria regulate vaccine responses to influenza (the flu) through activation of the innate immune receptor, Toll-like receptor (TLR)5.5

The question then is: What can you do to turn your gut microbiome into your most reliable ally for protection?

First, maintain a healthy and balanced gut microbial composition. Gut diversity and activity is critical. Two primary drivers affect gut microbial composition and activity – genetics and external influences. External influences include diet (i.e., quantity, quality, and frequency of nutrients) and environmental factors (i.e., activity levels, stress, mood, allergen exposure, hygiene, etc.). Diet and environment exert a more significant impact on the gut microbiome than the genetic component.6 This means that if you want to optimize your gut and its capabilities to address viral infections, you can do so! All you need is changes in your nutrition regimen and lifestyle.

Learn Microbiome 101 basics by Onegevity Co-Founder, Dr. Chris Mason!

A healthy gut environment entails minimal inflammation, great microbial diversity, good micronutrient production, and a balanced microbial population. All these components vary from person to person and because of that, there is no standard diet, probiotic supplement, or lifestyle that will apply to everyone. It takes personalization of a nutritional and lifestyle plan to support a balanced microbiota, which can in turn support and a healthy immune system.

GutbioTM by Onegevity offers an at-home gut microbiome test that utilizes the latest, high-resolution DNA sequencing technology and machine learning techniques to give you the most detailed insights of your gut health and status. Gutbio also includes an "immune readiness score" providing an indication of your immune function stemming from your gut based on the amount of and types of bacteria that influence immune response.  Reports also provide you with personalized, specific recommendations (diet, supplements, and lifestyle changes) to optimize your gut health. With optimal gut health, you are setting the stage for healthy immune function.

Neither Gutbio, nor the recommendations provided by the Gutbio test, diagnose, or treat coronavirus. 

1. Thursby E, Juge N. Introduction to the human gut microbiota. Biochem J. 2017;474(11):1823-1836.

2. Kho ZY, Lal SK. The human gut microbiome A potential controller of wellness and disease. Front Microbiol. 2018;9. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2018.01835

3. Li N, Ma WT, Pang M, Fan QL, Hua JL. The commensal microbiota and viral infection: A comprehensive review. Front Immunol. 2019;10:1551. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2019.01551

4. Williams WB, Liao HX, Moody MA, et al. Diversion of HIV-1 vaccine-induced immunity by gp41-microbiota cross-reactive antibodies. Science 2015;349(6249).

5. Oh JZ, Ravindran R, Chassaing B, et al. TLR5-mediated sensing of gut microbiota is necessary for antibody responses to seasonal influenza vaccination. Immunity. 2014;41(3):478-492.

6. Rothschild D, Weissbrod O, Barkan E, et al. Environment dominates over host genetics in shaping human gut microbiota. Nature. 2018;555(7695):210-215.