Research Shows Leafy Greens Boost Intestinal Immunity via Gene

leafy greens and immune systemAustralian researchers have determined that green leafy and cruciferous vegetables stimulate the immune system of the intestines by donating a gene that regulates the gut’s defense mechanisms.

The research comes from the University of Melbourne and Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research. The researchers studied the ingestion of leafy and cruciferous vegetables along with other foods. They measured and analyzed intestinal levels of interleukin 22 – a critical element that regulates intestinal immunity through an immune cell called NKp46+. This is also called an innate lymphoid cell – or ILC.

IL-22 and the innate lymphoid cells play a critical part of the intestine’s control of inflammatory conditions and food allergies. Low levels have been seen amongst various inflammatory diseases.

The genetic factor which stimulates these innate lymphoid cells from greens is called T-bet. T-bet is a genetic transcription factor that stimulates the a type of signalling gene called a Notch gene. These Notch genes stimulate the conversion of from lymphoid tissue-inducers to innate lymphoid cells, according to the research.

The research was led by Dr. Gabrielle Belz from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. Dr. Belz commented on the research:

“In this study, we discovered that T-bet is the key gene that instructs precursor cells to develop into ILCs (innate lymphoid cells), which it does in response to signals in the food we eat and to bacteria in the gut. ILCs are essential for immune surveillance of the digestive system and this is the first time that we have identified a gene responsible for the production of ILCs.”

The research illustrated that leafy and cruciferous greens apparently donate key proteins. “Proteins in these leafy greens could be part of the same signalling pathway that is used by T-bet to produce ILCs,” added Dr. Belz.

The green vegetables apparently interact with cell surface receptors, which switch on the T-bet gene.

Besides this factor, leafy and cruciferous greens also supply a wide breadth of nutrients, including folate, iron, potassium, calcium, vitamin K, beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and others. The need for vitamin K is critical to immunity, as it helps regulate inflammation, healing and blood clotting.

Learn more about intestinal immunity and digestive health.

Written by Case Adams, Naturopath


Rankin LC, Groom JR, Chopin M, Herold MJ, Walker JA, Mielke LA, McKenzie AN, Carotta S, Nutt SL, Belz GT. The transcription factor T-bet is essential for the development of NKp46(+) innate lymphocytes via the Notch pathway. Nat Immunol. 2013 Mar 3. doi: 10.1038/ni.2545.

Case Adams is a California Naturopath with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies. “My journey into writing about alternative medicine began about 9:30 one evening after I finished with a patient at the clinic I practiced at over a decade ago. I had just spent the last two hours explaining how diet, sleep and other lifestyle choices create health problems and how changes in these, along with certain herbal medicines and other natural strategies can radically yet safely turn ones health around. As I drove home that night, I realized I needed to get this knowledge out to more people. So I began writing about health with a mission to reach those who desperately need this information. The strategies in my books and articles are backed by scientific evidence along with wisdom handed down through traditional medicines for thousands of years.” Case connects with the elements by surfing, hiking and being a beach bum.

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