Can food protect you against flu-related lung damage?

By Lillian So Chan



A recent study shows that a particular gut microbe can prevent flu-related lung damage in mice, by breaking down flavonoids, a food compound commonly found in blueberries, black tea, and red wine.

Flu is a common and sometimes deadly infection of the upper respiratory tract. The World Health Organization estimates that there are 250,000 to 500,000 flu-related deaths annually.

The elderly, children, pregnant women, and those with chronic health problems such as asthma and heart disease are most prone to flu complications such as pneumonia and serious lung damage.

Researchers of this study have identified one type of gut microbe that uses dietary flavonoids to boost a signaling molecule that contributes to immune response.

The specific gut microbe, Clostridium orbiscindens, breaks down food flavonoids to a metabolite called DAT (desaminotyrosine), which enhances interferon immune signaling and protects the lung from serious flu-related damage.

The interesting thing is that the mice treated with DAT and those that were not all experienced similar levels of the flu infection. The gut microbe and DAT failed to protect the mice from the flu itself, but protected them from more serious lung damage.

The researchers plan to search for other gut microbes that may also use flavonoids to influence the immune system.



About the Author

Lillian So Chan is the founding editor of WellnessOptions, a print magazine and website, and author of the book WellnessOptions Guide to Health published by Penguin Books. With over thirty years of experience in journalism and editing, Lillian has established unique editorial directions for several award-winning publications. She has worked for Maclean’s, Canada's largest news magazine, and served as a Governor and Deputy Chairperson of the Board of Governors at the Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, Canada.

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Reference

Steed A L, et al, (2017) Science 357: 498-502.