Numerous medical studies have supported the idea that gut inflammation is implicated in cancer and implicated in autoimmune diseases. In many of our articles, we have shown recent studies that a healthy gut microbiota (the collective name for the bacteria that live in the digestive/intestinal tract) can protect many people from developing certain diseases including cancer, impact other health challenges including mental and neurological heath, and promote overall general health.
A March 2020 paper (1) lead by the University of Florence and the University of Turin in Italy now suggests that there is a connection between cancer and the risk of developing various autoimmune diseases and that connection is in the gut microbiota. The researchers also suggest that protecting and supporting the gut microbiota may reduce the risk. Here is a summary from the research team.
“Evidence establishes that chronic inflammation and autoimmunity are associated with cancer development and patients with a primary malignancy may develop autoimmune-like diseases. Despite immune dysregulation is a common feature of both cancer and autoimmune diseases, precise mechanisms underlying this susceptibility are not clarified and different hypotheses have been proposed, starting from genetic and environmental common features, to intrinsic properties of immune system. Moreover, as the development and use of immunomodulatory therapies for cancer (note: This is enhancing the body’s immune response to cancer) and autoimmune diseases are increasing, the elucidation (or understanding) of this relationship must be investigated in order to offer the best and most secure therapeutic options.
The microbiota could represent a potential link between autoimmune diseases and cancer. The immunomodulation role of microbiota is widely recognized and under eubiosis (optimal balance of microflora in the gastrointestinal tract), it orchestrates both the innate and adaptive response of immunity, in order to discriminate and modulate the immune response itself in the most appropriate way.
Therefore, a dysbiotic status (altered or disrupted gut environment that does not work properly) can alter the immune tonus rendering the host prone to exogenous (outside) or endogenous infections (a sudden infection from something that was already present and asymptomatic in the body), breaking the tolerance against self-components and activating the immune responses in an excessive (i.e. chronic inflammation) or deficient way, favoring the onset of neoplastic and autoimmune diseases.”
That is a lot said. Simply, as the last paragraph states, a compromised gut leads to infection and inflammation that leads to risk elevation for disease.
Enhancing immune response
An April 2019 study (2) suggests similar concerns surrounding a disrupted bowel. Here a research team from the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Medical School suggested:
The intestinal microbiota plays a crucial role in influencing the development of host immunity, and in turn the immune system also acts to regulate the microbiota through intestinal barrier maintenance and immune exclusion (our first line of antibody defense systems at the mucosal interface.) Normally, these interactions are homeostatic, tightly controlled, and organized by both innate and adaptive immune responses. However, a combination of environmental exposures and genetic defects can result in a break in tolerance and intestinal homeostasis. The outcomes of these interactions at the mucosal interface have broad, systemic effects on host immunity and the development of chronic inflammatory or autoimmune disease. The underlying mechanisms and pathways the microbiota can utilize to regulate these diseases are just starting to emerge.”
In this research, the impact of a weakened immune system on CD4+ T cell regulation was examined.
For an explanatory note on this function we will rely on the introduction to a study from Charles University in Prague on T cells (3), “Regulatory T cells (Tregs) are a specialized subpopulation of T cells that act to suppress immune response, thereby maintaining homeostasis and self-tolerance. It has been shown that Tregs are able to inhibit T cell proliferation and cytokine production (inflammation) and play a critical role in preventing autoimmunity.”
And a paper (4) from Alexandre Corthay, a specialist in cancer immunology published in the Scandinavian journal of immunology, in which Dr. Corthay explains CD4+ T cells as:
“CD4+ T cells are commonly divided into regulatory T (Treg) cells and conventional T helper (Th) cells. T helper (Th) cells control adaptive immunity against pathogens and cancer by activating other effector immune cells. Treg cells are defined as CD4+ T cells (white blood cells) in charge of suppressing potentially deleterious activities of Th cells.”
Immune function and the gut treatment outlines
As we have seen above, the gut fights a battle against inflammation. If left unchecked, chronic systemic inflammation can lead to autoimmune disorders and development of cancer. The cycle is such that people who develop cancer are at higher risk to develop secondary autoimmune disease and people who have autoimmune disease are at risk for developing cancer.
This is a study that comes from the National Institutes of Health, September 2018, published in the journal Nature reviews. Cardiology. (5)
Most older individuals develop inflammaging, a condition characterized by elevated levels of blood inflammatory markers that carries high susceptibility to chronic morbidity, disability, frailty, and premature death. Potential mechanisms of inflammaging include increased susceptibility to disease, central obesity, increased gut permeability, changes to microbiota composition, cellular senescence (your cells stop dividing (you have trouble healing and fighting disease), oxidative stress caused by dysfunctional mitochondria (energy levels drop and oxidative damage occurs), immune cell dysregulation, and chronic infections. Inflammaging is also a risk factor for chronic kidney disease, diabetes mellitus, cancer, depression, dementia, and sarcopenia (muscle loss).”
The researchers also suggest that among other treatments, doctors should explore the nutritional component. They suggest more research into these factors:
Metabolites, phytochemicals and micronutrients can diminish the risks of age-related diseases and inflammaging.
Endothelial progenitor cells (the cells of the blood vessel lining) play a critical role in neo-angiogenesis and vascular aging. It was found that Mediterranean diet nutraceuticals regulate the population and the physiological condition of endothelial progenitor cells, thus mitigating the process of inflammaging in the cardiovascular system.
The consumption of diets including whole grains cereals, vegetables, fish and fruits have been shown to have protective, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
Sulforaphane, present in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli sprouts, possesses anticarcinogenic and antioxidant properties.
In our article Probiotics, Cancer And Metastasis, we wrote “Recent studies have shown that a healthy gut microbiota (the collective name for the bacteria that live in the digestive/intestinal tract) can protect many people from developing certain cancers as well as metastasis. The idea that probiotics, the “good” bacteria, promotes a healthy gut microbiota and supports our immune system is a widely held scientific belief. How probiotics fortifies the immune system to fight cancer is a subject of intense interest in the medical and cancer communities.”
Research is just as fervent in autoimmune disease.
A March 2020 study (6) from researchers in Ireland wrote: “Studies in animal models have uncovered vital previously unrecognized roles for the microbiota in normal function of the immune responses, and when perturbed (gut unbalance), in the pathogenesis of diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and lungs, but also at distant sites in the body including the brain. The composition of gut and respiratory microbiota can influence systemic inflammatory responses that mediate asthma, allergy, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity-related diseases, and neurodevelopmental or neurodegenerative conditions. Experiments in mouse models as well as emerging clinical studies have revealed that therapeutic manipulation of the microbiota, using fecal microbiota transplantation, probiotics, or engineered probiotics represent effective nontoxic approaches for the treatment or prevention of Clostridium difficile infection, allergy, and autoimmune diseases and may enhance the efficacy of certain cancer immunotherapeutics.”
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1 Niccolai E, Boem F, Emmi G, Amedei A. The Link “Cancer and autoimmune diseases” in the light of microbiota: evidence of a potential culprit [published online ahead of print, 2020 Mar 4]. Immunol Lett. 2020;S0165-2478(20)30037-7. doi:10.1016/j.imlet.2020.03.001
2 Brown EM, Kenny DJ, Xavier RJ. Gut microbiota regulation of T cells during inflammation and autoimmunity. Annual review of immunology. 2019 Apr 26;37:599-624.
3 Kondelkova K, Vokurková D, Krejsek J, Borska L, Fiala Z, Ctirad A. Regulatory T cells (TREG) and their roles in immune system with respect to immunopathological disorders. Acta Medica (Hradec Kralove). 2010;53(2):73-.
4 Corthay A. How do regulatory T cells work? Scand J Immunol. 2009 Oct;70(4):326-36. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3083.2009.02308.x. PMID: 19751267; PMCID: PMC2784904.
5 Ferrucci L, Fabbri E. Inflammageing: Chronic inflammation in ageing, cardiovascular disease, and frailty. Nature Reviews Cardiology. 2018 Jul 31:1.
6 Fitzgibbon G, Mills KHG. The microbiota and immune-mediated diseases: Opportunities for therapeutic intervention. Eur J Immunol. 2020;50(3):326–337. doi:10.1002/eji.201948322