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Your Microbiota

February 14, 2014

I have had many thoughts lately about this recent turn of events, but I learned something yesterday that might change my life going forward:

More than half of your body's lymphocytes ("T cells") exist in your gut. Meaning your body realizes this avenue is a main entry point for most foreign microbes and the like, and provides that route with the necessary "security" for nutrients and good bacteria while hopefully keeping out the bad.

HIV loves your gut. The mucous membranes lining the intestines are a perfect breeding ground, and the gut is where HIV goes to "hide out" when your tests are coming back "undetectable." Further, the gut provides an "on-ramp" to the rest of your body because what HIV likes to do is cause havoc in the gut/blood vessel barrier. If it can disrupt that wall, it can spread from your bloodstream to new spots in your body (as well as sending other harmful gut microbes into your bloodstream, adding MORE inflammation/immune response).

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HOW does this "weak but diabolical" virus do it?

In a scientific article published 6 months ago (and then reported/blogged about endlessly from there), HIV's affinity for using the gut as a "secret fortress" is discussed, vis-a-vis HIV's M.O. and its relationships with other microbial members of your own personal ecosystem.

As a virus, HIV has two goals in life: replicate and spread. The gut provides it with an ideal environment for doing that. In order to replicate, human lymphocytes are needed. This means if HIV can trigger inflammation, and therefore an immune reaction, it can propagate.

What it does in your GI tract is attempt to get "bad" microbes all fired up. In essence, HIV behaves as an instigator. I'm still trying to wrap my head around medical journal articles, et cetera, so if my data here turns out to be MISINTERPRETED, please forgive.

Somehow, HIV in your gut releases, or "catabolizes" tryptophan (catabolism is the breakdown of food into energy -- I'm not super clear on this process). If you look at your "gut mucosa" as one large petri dish, think of this tryptophan attracting all kinds of BAD bacteria that digest tryptophan.

A byproduct of this tryptophan digestion inhibits the production of "Interleukin-17" by local immunity cells. IL-17 reinforces the walls of the gut. Think Medieval: no fortress reinforcements, easier for invaders to break through and pillage.

Ergo, HIV creates a swarm of harmful bacteria that ups inflammation, drawing lymphocytes to it for replication, but also, indirectly: weakens the blood boundary of your intestinal wall, making it easier to rupture and therefore: easier for HIV to spread elsewhere. Medical studies indicate this is a very common way for the early HIV infection to take hold.

Armed with this new information, I'm looking into probiotics and nutrients that nourish the good members of your micro-ecosystem while possibly going after the bad ones. Also, I want to find out what food/nutrients I can consume that will strengthen the intestinal wall and/or make these IL-17 immunity cells stronger.

There's a lot to be said here, re: what you consume and HIV ... definitely more later.

(If I've gotten anything wrong here, please tell me ... I have so much to learn).


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Reader Comments:

Comment by: Johnny (Israel) Tue., Apr. 1, 2014 at 4:18 pm EDT
Just a starter, your comment on tryptophan got me really worried for a minute. I love bananas and tend to eat them in crazy amounts, considering they are high in tryptophan and are more or less nature's "upper" but on looking it up , turns out one of the lectins in Bananas actually helps with inhibition of HIV replication, who'd have thunk it. :-) gat article btw
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: Ben at the Body Fri., Apr. 4, 2014 at 5:49 pm EDT
Thanks!
I worried that by including tryptophan, people would be like "uhoh no more turkey!"
There are many, many steps between swallowing turkey and your large intestine. The hydrochloric stomach acid factor alone does lots of chemical stuff to food even before it enters the intestines.
Also: since tryptophan is a key amino acid, there's really no way for a healthy human to avoid it!


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Ben B.

Ben B.

Ben is an old soul from the American heartland. Indoctrinated as a child on AIDS education throughout the 80s/90s, he's fascinated by the sociological and psychological outcomes that resulted from that exposure, for all of us. Especially as new medicines and new generations rise to the challenge, relegating this once-fatal disease into "merely" a serious condition.

A recent diagnosis paired with this ancient education means internal conflict. Ben thrives on examining the layers of HIV-- where society, relationships and even the law are concerned.

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