When it comes to parts of your body that you want to nurture, 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 immune system 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 keep our all-important intestinal barrier in top form.
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 maintaining healthy digestion and metabolism to supporting immune function and positive 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. Supporting mucous secretion. Our intestinal wall includes a mucous layer that works to further ward off inhospitable microbes. Our friendly microbes help encourage the production of mucin, the slimy substance that coats and protects this layer1.
2. Producing antimicrobial molecules. Many 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 beneficial microbes 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. Keeping the structure of tight junctions strong. Beneficial bacteria help jump-start the assembly of tight junction proteins, and they activate cell signaling that supports strengthening of the tight junctions so the bad guys can’t push their way through4.
Clearly, beneficial bacteria are major players 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, helping to maintain our strong 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 discourages 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 Support 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 maintain 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 help keep your intestinal wall strong. Hyperbiotics Immune contains five targeted probiotic strains, as well as EpiCor®, a yeast superfood that supports immune cells and further encourages 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 burst 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 enjoy lasting, vibrant health. Caring for your system by introducing helpful bacteria and giving the good bugs the fiber they need to maintain an impressive gut barrier will support your foundation of health from the inside out, so you can live your happiest, healthiest days.References:
1. Caballero-Franco, C., Keller, K., Simone, C. D., & Chadee, K. (2006). The VSL#3 probiotic formula induces mucin gene expression and secretion in colonic epithelial cells. AJP: Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology, 292(1).
2. Lievin, V. (2000). Bifidobacterium strains from resident infant human gastrointestinal microflora exert antimicrobial activity. Gut, 47(5), 646-652.
3. Ogawa, M., Shimizu, K., Nomoto, K., Tanaka, R., Hamabata, T., Yamasaki, S., . . . Takeda, Y. (2001). Inhibition of in vitro growth of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O157:H7 by probiotic Lactobacillus strains due to production of lactic acid. International Journal of Food Microbiology, 68(1-2), 135-140.
4. Rao, R. K., & Samak, G. (2013). Protection and Restitution of Gut Barrier by Probiotics: Nutritional and Clinical Implications. Current Nutrition & Food Science, 9(2), 99-107.
5. Vanhook, A. M. (2015). Butyrate benefits the intestinal barrier. Science Signaling, 8(378). doi:10.1126/scisignal.aac6198
6. Ducray, H. A., Globa, L., Pustovyy, O., Reeves, S., Robinson, L., Vodyanoy, V., & Sorokulova, I. (2016). Mitigation of heat stress-related complications by a yeast fermentate product. Journal of Thermal Biology, 60, 26-32.
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.