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Eating Greens Prove to be More Beneficial than Before

Update Date: Mar 04, 2013 11:05 AM EST

Eating leafy greens may have even more healthy benefits than previously known, a new study reports. The study, published in Nature Immunology discovered that certain vegetables help with the production of immune cells that promote a healthy digestive system and protect the intestines from harmful bacteria. Dr. Gabrielle Belz, Ms. Lucie Rankin, Dr. Joanna Groom and their team from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute's Molecular Immunology Division in Australia headed the study.

During the study, the researchers discovered the role of the gene called T-bet. T-bet's function is to produce an abundance of immune cells, known as innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) when signaled by external stimuli, such as food or bacteria. ILCs are responsible for fending off infections entering the body through the stomach and intestines. These cells also play a significant role in maintaining food allergies and inflammation. Researchers also believe that these cells can help with fighting obesity and bowel cancers. The specific subset of ILCs that the T-bet produces is known for fighting infections. ILCs are found in the stomach lining and the intestines.

"In this study, we discovered that T-bet is the key gene that instructs precursor cells to develop into ILCs, 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," Dr. Belz stated.

Based from this finding, the team observed that the proteins found in leafy green vegetables could help with the production of ILCs. It appears that the vegetables' proteins interact with a cell surface receptor that triggers the T-bet into producing ILCs. ILCs have been known to boost the presence of good bacteria and help repair abrasions and wounds commonly found in the gut. This discovery is important in maintaining one's health. If more research can be done regarding what these vegetable proteins really do to T-bet and the production of ILCs, people can alter their diets to promote a healthier digestive system.

In addition, since researchers have an idea of what produces ILCs, scientists in the future might be able to manufacture ILCs outside of the body.  Until now, researchers did not know the specifics of how ILCs were produced in the body or what their exact roles are when it comes to cancers and diseases. If scientists find the exact biological mechanisms behind ILCs' role in preventing bowel cancers, treatments for cancers and other inflammatory diseases can be improved significantly.

The study was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia. Other support came from the Sylvia and Charles Viertel Foundation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the Victorian Government.

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