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Diet, Microbiota, and the Gut-Lung Connection

By Maryann Makosiej

They say you are what you eat, and with new research, this statement couldn’t be more true. A new paper detailing “Diet, Microbiota, and the Gut-Lung Connection” expounds on the role diet plays in our immune response and general well-being. Gut microbiota, the microbes in our gastrointestinal system, consume nutrients that impact not only our digestion, but also organs like the lung. These bacteria move throughout the bloodstream and lymph (the fluid that is the foundation of the immune system), impacting immune response. In fact, disturbances in the composition of gut microbiota are now understood to be the basis of many lung diseases, including allergies, asthma, and cystic fibrosis. Understanding the gut microbiome and its role in respiratory disorders is essential in developing proper probiotics for treatment.

Metabolites, the products produced by gut microbiome, fundamentally impact human health. Our gut microbiomes vary significantly during different stages of life. The microbial composition, in its earliest stages, depends mainly on feeding, antibiotic exposure, and the surrounding environment. As young adults, gut microbiota is highly influenced by lifestyle and diet. As adults, the microbiota, which have consistently changed since initial colonization at birth, begin to stabilize. Frequent infection, medication use, immune strength, etc. are primary influencers at of the microbiota at this integral developmental point.

Artwork by Reese Green

Recently, the benefit of ingesting probiotics have shown significant results in potentially improving inflammatory conditions (e.g. Inflammatory Bowel Disease) through enhancing intestine integrity. Such beneficial roles of probiotics make them potential candidates for treatment of inflammatory diseases like IBD, allergy, COPD, asthma, etc. In addition, probiotics also show promising results in the field of lung oncology. Oral probiotic strain Lactobacillus acidophilus has been cross-listed with mice lung cancer models undergoing cisplatin treatment, which in turn, shows reduction in tumor size and higher survival rate. Further, gut microbiota has the potential to impact the growth of lung cancer and has been attributed to the changes in antitumor immunity. A whole new subfield of “oncomicrobiotics” should be considered as a means in which to augment cancer treatment. Probiotics, through their work with the gut microbiome, have the potential to be incredibly useful in treating many lung diseases.

However, despite the promising effects of probiotics on influencing the human immune response, their efforts should be met with caution. Many inconsistencies have been observed in clinical trials relating to probiotic efficacy towards treating lung conditions. Measuring the results of these particular kind of studies has proved challenging as it is difficult to isolate the effect something as encompassing as the gut microbiome.

Overall, what you eat does, in part, determine who you are. The ways in which we, quite literally, feed and construct our gut microbiome play a significant role in our health. A growing body of evidence supports the idea that the reaches of gut microbiota impact not only our gastrointestinal system, but also our immune and respiratory systems as well. Links between respiratory ailments, gut microbiota, and the lung immune response have definitely been observed, but more trials and studies are necessary for true insight.


Anand, S., & Mande, S. S. (2018). Diet, Microbiota and Gut-Lung Connection. Frontiers in Microbiology,9. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2018.02147

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