The food we eat provides a wealth of nutrients for our immune system which is constantly fighting against invaders on our behalf to keep us healthy. Researchers from the University of Manchester and the National Institutes of Health in the United States have recently found that chewing your food also plays a role in how your ability to fight off infections.
When it comes to that immunity response, T helper 17 (Th17) immune cells are active players in fighting off infections typically associated with the mouth, according to a recent press release
on the study
, published in the journal, Immunity
. In their research, the authors made a number of discoveries regarding these important cells, chief among them was the fact that these cells are a central part of the mouth’s defense.
“The immune system performs a remarkable balancing act at barrier sites such as the skin, mouth, and gut by fighting off harmful pathogens while tolerating the presence of normal friendly bacteria,” said, lead researcher Joanne Konkel, PhD, biologist from The University of Manchester in the press release.
Dr. Konkel and her team defined these cells as the “key mediators of barrier immunity participating in immune surveillance and maintenance of barrier integrity,” in the study. Furthermore, this specific subset of T cells is known to act as mediators when it comes to protective immunity and “pathogenic inflammation at the oral barrier.”
The Amount of Th17 Cells Increase with Age
Further exploration of Th17 cells yielded a wealth of insight. First, the researchers found that the amount of Th17 cells in the gingiva, or gums, actually increase with age. By examining the IL-17+ T cells in the gingiva of mice, the researchers found that the older the mice were, the more T cells there were. “Few Th17 cells were seen in the gingiva of 8-week-old (young) mice. However, by 24 weeks of age, considered middle age in aging studies, Th17 cell frequencies and numbers were significantly elevated in the gingiva, indicating the physiologic development of a Th17 cell network with age.”
The researchers extended their study to examine IL-17+ cell frequencies in human gingiva as well. Examining these frequencies in both younger (18 to 25 years of age) and older (40 to 50 years of age) participants—all healthy, with no evidence of any oral disease—the researchers noted similar findings, stating, “We saw increased frequencies of IL-17+ cells in the gingiva of older compared to younger adults.”