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Does your gut health influence how well you respond to the flu vaccine?

6 August 2015

The role of our gut microbiome and our health is a relatively new frontier for immunology.  How these trillions of gut bacteria develop, and their interaction with our immune system is the daily work of Dr Elizabeth (Liz) Forbes-Blom’s team at the Malaghan institute.  While the research spans several areas, a link between our gut microbiome and how well we respond to influenza vaccination is the latest subject of investigation.

Liz explains, “When we receive a flu vaccination, our bodies react to a dead or deactivated flu strain by creating protective antibodies.  Ideally we build up a memory of a disease we haven’t experienced, so if or when we encounter it out bodies know exactly how to fight it.  Recent cutting-edge investigations now link gut microbiota to the development of vaccine-induced protective immunity.  People with a less diverse gut microbiome tend to not respond as well to vaccination, and ironically that can be the people most vulnerable to illness; the very young and the very old.”

General health, nutrition, stress and the use of antibiotics are all known to play a role in the health of our gut microbiome, and in turn the health of our immune responses.  Exactly what supports or limits vaccine efficacy and duration is unclear but establishing cellular interactions in or between the microbiota in our gut and immune cells may form part of the puzzle. 

Liz and the team hope to carry out a feasibility study with humans in the future.