When we visualize the digestive tract we often think of it as this tube that runs from our mouth or stomach down to our anus. Somewhere along this tube nutrients and water pass through the wall and into the blood stream where our body takes it and puts it to use. But, have you ever zoomed in to where the absorption occurs, wondered about the structure of said tube or why we recommend the supplements/nutrients that we do to heal Leaky Gut and Autoimmunity?
The majority of nutrient absorption occurs in the small intestine where the intestinal wall is 6 layers thick – this is one layer less than the colon, which has 7 layers. (This difference in layering is part of the reason our small intestine, rather than Colon, is susceptible to Leaky Gut) Each of these layers have different jobs that they do and have different nutrient requirements. If you are working on healing Leaky Gut, SIBO, Candida or an Auto-immune condition, you’ll likely be requiring the following information.As you can see from the above diagram, the intestinal tract is not merely just a hole through a donut. It has layers baby! So, lets have a look at the different job and nutrient requirements so that you can apply this to your healing journey.
Layer #1: Mucous
The mucous layer is loosely adhered to the wall of the intestine not unlike a sticky bowl of Natto. This layer provides lubrication, protection, antimicrobial and immune proteins, and habitat for local microbiome. The intestinal wall itself secretes this mucous layer. Secretion of mucous can be enhanced by taking probiotics, or built up by taking something like Marshmallow, Aloe or Deglycyrrhizinated licorice. This is one area where your prebiotic intake is important. If you don’t eat enough fibre, the bacteria in your microbiome won’t have food to ferment, and instead start to starve and will munch away at this layer of Mucous rather than producing SCFA’s, which promote mucous secretion.
Layer #2: Mucin
Mucin is the major component of mucous, secreted by goblet cells and composed of glycoproteins. This layer is particularly supported by the Amino Acids Threonine, Proline, Serine found in protein rich foods. If you have low stomach acid, think about supporting protein digestion with HCL or bitters. If you are a vegetarian, make sure you rotate your proteins consistently in order to maximize the variety of Amino Acids you take in.
Layer #3: Glycocalyx
The Glycocalyx are mucin strands that are integrated with the epithelial cell membrane. They selectively prevent or promote microbial adherence and faciliate cell to cell communication. This layer is supported especially by N-Acetyl-Glucosamine, which is found in the shells of crustaceans or cartilage in offal. Your best sources would be to make broth, supplement or if you have followed Dr. Gundry’s Plant Paradox you might even munch away on the shells of your seafood!
Layer #4: Epithelial Cells
Your Intestinal Epithelial Cells accomplish mucous secretion, selective absorption of nutrients and protection from toxins or other unwanted materials that shouldn’t pass into the bloodstream. They increase their surface area for absorption with fingerlike projections called microvilli. These cells are largely dependent on the nutrients passing through the intestines, with Amino Acids being a major fuel source. L-Glutamine especially provides fuel for them and can facilitate their repair if damaged along with Zinc Carnosine. Best sources of L-Glutamine include pasture raised bone broth, meat, whey protein, cabbage and spirulina. Zinc is found in seafood, shellfish, grass-fed meat, eggs and legumes. Carnosine can be obtained from grass-fed meat and offal, soybeans, turnip greens, watercress and spirulina.This is another layer where prebiotic intake and SCFA production is important. Epithelial cells use Butyrate, a specific type of SCFA, for energy.With repeated exposure to food sensitivities or bacterial/fungal overgrowth the layer of microvilli can become damaged so that you have reduced absorption. Studies have shown that Saccharomyces Boulardii can support their repair.
Layer #5: Tight Junctions
This layer seals the adjacent cells and selectively prevents the passing of unwanted materials into the bloodstream. Vitamins A and D, Fulvic and Humic Acid, and Quercetin can faciliate tight junction repair. Vitamin A is found in higher quantities in grass-fed butter, egg yolk, fatty fish, cod liver oil, liver, butternut squash, sweet potato and dried apricot. Vitamin D is best obtained from the sun, fatty fish, mushrooms, Cod Liver, oysters, shrimp and egg yolk. Quercetin is delicous from Cabbage, Kale, blueberries, capers, onions and Spirulina. Fulvic and Humic acid come from the dusting of healthy soil that we should be getting from our vegetables. Thanks to modern agriculture this is happening less and less.
Layer #6: Basement Membrane
This layer is the basement layer of epithelial cells. Its integrity is supported by the Amino Acid Glycine, which is found in the connective tissue of animals (more bone broth!) and legumes. L-Glutamine is a major fuel source.
See the diagram below for even more benefits provided by the recommended nutrients! And hop over to Instagram to let me know what types of nutrients you’re using to heal your gut!