In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis many people are looking for ways to support their immune systems. Especially as Americans are drinking alcohol (an immune suppressant) at a record rate. While vitamin C and zinc may be in the limelight, there's class of immune-boosting compounds that receives little attention: short-chain fatty acids.
Just like our digestive system, our lungs have a microbiome: a microscopic world of bacteria (both good and bad), viruses, fungi, and bacteriophages. The lung microbiome controls immune responses and inflammation in the lungs. And, as in the digestive system, a healthy microbiome is vital to protect us from pathogens. Unfortunately we can't repopulate the lung's biosystem with "good" bacteria like we can with our digestive system by using a probiotic supplent. The good news? Short-chain fatty acids seem to be able do the job!
Animal studies have found short-chain fatty acids decrease inflammation in lung tissue by altering the microbiota within the lungs.(Source) And in fact, short-chain fatty acids are being studied for their potential in increasing the immune response to the COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) virus.(Source)
Worried your alcohol consumption may be compromising your immune system? This study found short-chain fatty acids increased the immune response in mice whose health were challenged by bacterial infections, alcohol, and other toxins. This study found SFCAs boosted immune system responses to immunocompromised people with inflammatory bowel disease or alcohol-induced immune system depression.
Short-chain fatty acids don't give anyone a free pass to binge drink without health consequences, of course. But if you're looking for a way to get your body back in balance, short-chain fatty acids appear to be a good way to restore yourself.
How do we get short-chain fatty acids?
During the coconut oil craze of the 2010s you may have heard of medium-chain fatty acids and their potential health benefits. So do short-chain fatty acids come from an oil? Is this a supplement we should be taking? A powder to add to our smoothies?
Nope! Although it sounds like a fat, short-chain fatty acids are by-products of the digestion of dietary fiber.(Source) (Source) Our bodies naturally make short-chain fatty acids as long as it has fiber to digest. (And and healthy gut bacteria.) Who knew that our *gut* microbiome could affect our *lung* microbiome!
It's not a sexy topic. It's not controversial. It's not political. It's not a miracle cure. It's boring news we've known all along: fiber is good for you. And most Americans don't get enough.
It's recommended that we get 25-30 grams of dietary fiber a day. Most of us get around 15.
Getting this fiber from your *diet* and not from supplements is important. Fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, grains, and lentils also happen provide polyphenols, flavonoids, and other essential nutrients that support our immune system and overall health.
If you're looking to increase your dietary fiber, don't do it all at once. Gradually introduce fiber to your diet to avoid digestive irritation and upset. And, of course, if you have a health condition, consult with your nutritionist or doctor before altering your diet.
[Medical Disclaimer: The information on this website or in emails is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your physician.]