When it comes to parts of your body that you want to improve, your gut barrier probably isn’t at the top of your list—or even on the list. In fact, like most people, you likely haven’t given much thought at all to your intestinal barrier and how it impacts your health, but research shows that it just may be the most important protection we have for our immunity and overall health and wellness.
What is the gut barrier? In short, it’s a single layer of cells (our intestinal wall) that works together with our gut microbes to form a barrier between the external environment and our bloodstream. This crucial barrier is selectively permeable, meaning that its purpose is twofold: to allow nutrients, water, and electrolytes in, and to keep toxins, inhospitable microbes, and antigens out.
Ideally, our gut barrier should be able to perform its functions flawlessly, both nourishing and protecting us as necessary. But the problem is that many people’s gut barriers are compromised (due to depleted microbiomes and less than optimal gut health), and molecules that we don’t want to pass through can leak into our inner system, triggering inappropriate immune reactions and temporary inflammation.
The good news is that our friendly gut flora work with our own cells to reinforce our all-important intestinal barrier.
6 Ways Probiotics Help Maintain the Gut Barrier
Our microbiome is very much like another organ, and it’s made up of the trillions of bacteria living in and on our body. We have a symbiotic relationship with all the microbes we play host to—we provide them with food and a place to live and they provide us with an ever-increasing number of life-supporting functions. From aiding digestion and balancing blood sugar to enhancing immunity and regulating moods, our beneficial bacteria—also called probiotics—work very hard on our behalf to support our health.
Our gut barrier is lined with our own epithelial cells, held together by tight junctions that seal the gaps between cells. But, scientists are discovering that the good bacteria in our gut greatly influence the function of our intestinal wall on several different levels.
Probiotics can help maintain gut barrier integrity by:
1. Promoting mucous secretion. Our intestinal wall includes a mucous layer that works to further ward off inhospitable microbes. Probiotics can increase the production of mucin, the slimy substance that coats and protects this layer1.
2. Producing antimicrobial molecules. Many probiotic bacteria can produce antimicrobial substances that kill bad guy bacteria trying to make their way through the gut2.
3. Lowering pH levels. Some probiotic strains produce lactic or acetic acid, which can make invader microbes like Escherichia coli less likely to thrive by creating a more acidic gut environment3.
4. Competing for binding sites on epithelial cells. When probiotics are in good supply, they can crowd out bad guy bacteria by taking over any available binding sites on cells and the mucous layer. Much like a crowded parking lot, without any available spaces, the inhospitable bacteria can’t settle in.
5. Increasing antibody levels. Probiotics can both increase levels of cells that produce antibodies (called immunoglobulins) and promote secretion of the antibodies—like sIgA—in the mucous layer.
6. Strengthening the structure of tight junctions. Beneficial bacteria help jump-start the assembly of tight junction proteins, and they activate cell signaling that strengthens the tight junctions so the bad guys can’t push their way through4.
Clearly, probiotics are a major player in how well our gut barrier is able to let the good stuff in and keep the bad stuff out. So, how do we nurture these guardians of the gut?
Prebiotics and Intestinal Wall Function
Like any good host, our digestive tract only makes a comfortable home for ample amounts of probiotics if we feed them properly.
You see, if the friendly flora in our gut don’t have the right kind of food to eat, they won’t be able to stay in the majority, protecting our gut barrier and working to keep us healthy. That’s where prebiotics come in. Like fertilizing a garden, prebiotics are indigestible fibers that provide all the nourishment our probiotics need to survive.
What do our beneficial bugs do with this fiber? They ferment it into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) like butyrate that provide energy and fuel for the cells that line our colon and facilitate tight junction assembly so our gut barrier can stand strong in the face of invaders5. Butyrate also suppresses temporary inflammation, letting our immune system know when it should and shouldn’t mount an attack.
What’s important to remember is that our helpful microbes can’t produce these critical SCFAs without the appropriate prebiotic fiber in their (and our) diet.
How to Improve Your Gut Barrier
Fortunately, taking care of your gut barrier by making a conscious effort to live a gut-healthy life will pay you back in spades when it comes to long-term health and vitality. Follow these steps on your path to a strong and healthy gut:
• Take a daily probiotic supplement. A high-quality, multi-strain probiotic formula will provide you with billions of beneficial bacteria to stand guard along your intestinal wall. Hyperbiotics Immune contains five targeted probiotic strains, as well as EpiCor®, a yeast superfood that stimulates immune cells and further enhances butyrate production6.
• Include prebiotics every day. Many common foods are good sources of prebiotics, such as onions, garlic, apples, dandelion greens, asparagus, and jicama. In short, the more you can focus on a diet high in whole, plant-based foods, the better. Targeted prebiotic blends—with ingredients like Jerusalem artichoke, green banana flour, and acacia fiber—can also give your diet a powerful boost of prebiotic fiber.
• Limit exposure to probiotic adversaries. In this day and age, so many things deplete the good bacteria in our gut, leaving our gut barrier vulnerable to breaches and attacks. Whenever possible, avoid antibiotics (in food and as medicine), antibacterial cleaners, food contaminants, stress, and sugary, processed foods.
Just as we engage in exercise to keep our outer body looking and feeling fit and strong, we must pay close attention to the inner world of our gut to truly achieve lasting, vibrant health. Seeding your system with helpful bacteria and giving the good bugs the fiber they need to make an impressive gut barrier will build your foundation of health from the inside out, so you can live your happiest, healthiest days.References:
Emily Courtney is a Writer and Editor at Hyperbiotics and mom to two fun and active boys. Emily is passionate about natural wellness and helping others learn about the power of probiotics for vibrant health! For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.