A recent study from Washington University School of Medicine has unveiled to us all a piece of appealing news: A compound found in blueberries, black tea, and most wines could help to promote healthy gut bacteria and prevent complications from influenza infection. (And just in time for flu season.)
Since when does your gut fight the flu? As it turns out, always — we just didn’t know about it. The study examined a particular strain of gut bacteria that produces a metabolite called desaminotyrosine (DAT). Mice with higher levels of DAT in their digestive tract exhibited a more effective immune response to the flu — they actually suffered less lung damage than other mice treated with the same dose of the flu virus.
The mice were unable to prevent the onset of the flu, however; both groups experienced the same level of infection. The side effects to their lungs were simply mitigated, indicating that the infection was more effectively fought off by the immune systems of mice with the helpful gut bacteria.
The magic ingredient in these three otherwise unrelated foods is simple: flavonoids, which the bacteria in the study metabolized into flu-fighting DAT. Antioxidants (of which flavonoids are a type) have been rumored to have flu-fighting power before, but this study helps to provide a potential cause behind the beneficial effect.
The answer has been lying in our gut all along — to not only this problem, but likely others, as well. There’s a reason probiotics and fermentation are on the rise in health communities. The tiny shelf of kombucha at your local Whole Foods has likely expanded to consume an entire aisle.
People are noticing a difference in their health after using probiotics. The effects of these bacteria-promoting agents are tangible almost immediately after ingesting them and this study suggests that they stretch much further than that, as well.
Regardless, lung preservation is a promising benefit. “It is this kind of damage that often causes significant complications such as pneumonia in people,” says Thaddeus Stappenbeck, senior author of the study. Pneumonia is only one of many potential complications of the flu — thankfully, we can add wine to our list of prevention techniques.