Gut barrier function is the new hot topic in the gut health conversation.

Swati Kalgaonkar, Ph.D., Director of Medical and Scientific Affairs

March 15, 2024

3 Min Read

At a Glance

  • Gut health, probiotics and the microbiome are all hot topics.
  • Gut-barrier function—aka, leaky gut—is finally starting to get attention.
  • Artificial intelligence is being used to find new ingredients.

[Editor’s note: For more on digestive health, download the essential toolbox for gut-health formulation, marketing and ingredient selection in the Natural Products Insider digital magazine here.]

Recent scientific breakthroughs have revealed connections between the gut and other bodily systems, such as the immune system and gut-brain axis. In turn, awareness of gut health has accelerated among health-conscious individuals.

For people who take a holistic view of health and wellness, concepts like microflora and metabolites have entered the conversation. More and more, health-conscious consumers in the U.S. and Europe prioritize probiotics, prebiotic fiber and other gut-friendly attributes in the foods and supplements they purchase.

The next concept on the horizon for gut health is the gut barrier function. The small intestinal gut barrier plays an essential role in health and wellness by regulating the selective permeability of the intestinal lining. A healthy gut barrier helps to absorb nutrients while keeping harmful pathogens and proinflammatory factors from crossing into the bloodstream.

Optimal gut barrier function is a result of the collective activities of intestinal flora, a mucosal layer and the mechanical barrier of epithelial and endothelial cells that line the intestine. The cells that make up the intestinal lining form “tight junctions,” which act as gatekeepers, blocking harmful cells and molecules from reaching the blood. Weakness in the gut barrier has been shown to be associated with certain infections and inflammation.

Related:Biotics for life! – digital magazine

To achieve a strong gut, one must look at the big picture. Total gut strength encompasses proper gut barrier function in tandem with digestive health and a healthy microbiome. As more consumers become interested in probiotics, fiber and the microbiome, products and ingredients that also support the gut barrier can help them realize total gut health. 

Bioactives for gut barrier support

Bioactives are naturally occurring compounds in plants, fungi, and bacteria that stimulate beneficial responses in cells and tissues. Recent preclinical data suggest that two bioactives, N-trans-Caffeoyltyramine (NCT) and N-trans-Feruloyltyramine (NFT), may support gut barrier function.

A new artificial intelligence (AI) technology identified NCT and NFT as agonists for the HNF4ɑ protein, which is associated with intestinal health and  gut barrier integrity. In the subsequent in vitro study, NCT and NFT were found to improve impaired gut barrier function in human primary intestinal epithelial cells culture using an established and validated model for intestinal epithelium. Administering both NCT and NFT to inflamed cells demonstrated a statistically significant reversal of impaired intestinal permeability and transepithelial electrical resistance (TEER).

Again utilizing an AI technology, hemp fiber, an insoluble fiber from sustainable, upcycled hemp hulls, has been identified as the richest known source of NCT and NFT.

Formulating for total gut health

Formulating with hemp fiber gives brands a distinctive, differentiated vantage point from which to position their foods and supplements. Additionally, hemp fiber’s light environmental footprint fits with the sustainability stories many brands pursue today: less waste, less carbon and less water and land usage. With hemp hulls, valuable fiber and bioactives are reclaimed that might otherwise go to waste. The upcycled fiber requires no new land to be cultivated and very little water to produce.

Gut barrier function represents the missing piece for many of today’s gut health consumers, and innovative supplement and functional food brands can stay ahead of the curve by formulating new products that support gut barrier strength for the next generation of health-conscious buyers.

About the Author(s)

Swati Kalgaonkar, Ph.D.

Director of Medical and Scientific Affairs, Brightseed

Swati Kalgaonkar, Ph.D., is an expert in the field of nutritional science, holding a Ph.D. as well as a postdoctoral fellowship in nutritional endocrinology from the University of California-Davis. With more than 15 years of industry experience, her portfolio encompasses a diverse array of research and communication in the areas of bioactives, gut health, immune health, cognitive health, healthy aging, cardiometabolic health and quality of life.

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