The gut. The more you read, the more it seems like good health starts and ends with the gut. That what’s going on in the gut manifests itself in other parts of your body, and what you do in your lifestyle manifests itself in the gut. Recent research suggests a beneficial role of vitamins for gut health.
Mainstream doctors don’t recognize leaky gut as a real affliction. Chronic gut problems are new, with increasing speculation that they are the result of the newish “Western Diet” that’s loaded with processed foods, vegetable oils, and refined carbohydrates. Gut research is, compared to that delving into other health issues, still in its infancy. Studies about diet, nutrition, and vitamins for gut health are rare. Those that do exist, however, show strong evidence that four vitamins can help to limit inflammation and maintain a healthy intestinal barrier that researchers claim is key to gut health.
Those vitamins are Vitamin A, C, D, and E. To understand how they affect the gut, it’s necessary to understand the role of the intestinal, gut, barrier in overall health.
The Gut Barrier
Covering about 400m2 in surface area, the intestinal barrier keeps the good stuff (electrolytes and water) in and the bad stuff (microorganisms and antigens) out of the body. It’s permeable enough to allow the absorption of dietary nutrients. Authors of a 2004 study write that the barrier is the product of numerous factors: a physical mucosal barrier, a chemical barrier that includes digestive secretions and antimicrobial peptides, intestinal microbiota, and immune functions.
Within the physical barrier is a layer of cells, the space between which is sealed by tight junctions (TJ). Numerous studies have correlated impaired TJ function to inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). New research suggests that inflammatory substances excreted by cells (including the terrifying Tumor Necrosis Factor Alpha) increase the rate of cell shedding so those tight junctions can’t redistribute to seal the holes left by the shed cells. The gaps increase permeability of the physical barrier. In other studies, researchers demonstrated that bacteria can penetrate the “normally impenetrable” mucus layer in patients with ulcerative colitis. Researchers have found that antioxidants in the mucus are also depleted among subjects with these conditions.
Authors of a recent literature review explain the barrier’s importance like this: “The gut barrier plays a key role in the avoidance of inflammatory responses to the microbiota and is regulated by a finely tuned network of immune mechanisms for microbial recognition and tolerance to the microbiota. Failure to achieve or maintain this equilibrium between a host and its microbiota has negative consequences for both intestinal and systemic health. Several diseases have been linked to changes in the microbiota populations, or to reduction of the microbiota’s diversity, including, atopic diseases, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), diabetes, obesity, cancer and very recently, even neuropathologies.”
Other researchers have found that intestinal bacteria overgrowth is associated with increased body fat and other metabolic syndrome conditions that affects 35% of US adults.
“Consistently, energy-rich high-fat diets enhanced intestinal permeability resulting in metabolic endotoxinemia [elevated levels of bacteria-released toxins in the blood]. The Western style diet, which is characterized by a high amount of fat and carbohydrates, induced similar or even more pronounced changes,” write the authors of the literature review. They continue to state that research implicates the sugar fructose as particularly damaging to the intestinal barrier and a cause of bacterial overgrowth.
As so many have been saying recently, health starts in the gut. So, what can you do to ensure that you maintain a functional intestinal barrier? Vitamins for gut health are just part of an overall lifestyle that supports a healthy gut.
Vitamins for Gut Health: What the Research Says
According to the aforementioned literature review authors, the two major factors in regulating the gut barrier are nutrition and microbiota: The nutrients you put into your body and the bacteria that live in the gut. Some of the most compelling nutrients are the A, C, D, and E vitamins for gut health.
Researchers of a comprehensive article published at the end of 2018, state that micronutrient deficiencies may play a major role. In the article “The Relationship Between Vitamin C Status, the GUT-Liver Axis, and Metabolic Syndrome [MetS],” the researchers found that many obese people with metabolic syndrome have insufficient levels of circulating Vitamin C. They posit that this is due to gut inflammation and barrier dysfunction caused by an energy-dense diet. Energy density is the calories per gram of food. Foods that contain high amounts of water — like fruit and vegetables, and foods like pasta that absorb water while cooking — and/or have high fiber content have low energy density. Processed foods with high fat and sugar content have high energy densities. These processed, energy-dense foods also have little Vitamin C content, which can explain why 8% of obese women and 13% of obese men have a vitamin C deficiency and 5-12% lower micronutrient intakes than normal weight adults.
“Potentially, inadequate vitamin C status in MetS contributes to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, transcytosis of enteric bacteria, and an elevation of circulating LPS, which elicits a low-grade inflammatory response,” the authors write. In multiple studies of people with metabolic syndrome, researchers found long-term adherence to a Mediterranean diet (which is based heavily on fruits and vegetables that contain high contents of Vitamin C) helped to raise the levels of helpful gut bacteria. Because of its reliance on fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, and olive oil, this style of eating contains high amounts of critical vitamins for gut health.
In a study of guinea pigs (one of the few mammals besides humans that cannot produce their own Vitamin C), researches found that Vitamin C suppressed endotoxemia. Other research suggests that Vitamin C supplementation may improve barrier function by enabling collagen synthesis in the intestine. And yet more research indicates that Vitamin C can mitigate the damage to the intestinal barrier caused by consumption of NSAIDs (ibuprofin, acetaminophen, etc.).
Vitamin A is critical in fortifying the intestinal barrier as well. In a 2009 study, researchers found that just a few weeks of a Vitamin A-deficient diet impairs the intestinal barrier. Another research team found that lower Vitamin A (retinol) blood plasma concentrations correlated with intestinal permeability.
Vitamin D deficiency is a characteristic of IBD, and an experiment in mice suggests that it may compromise the mucosal barrier.
In the recent review, researchers found that adults with MetS had an elevated level of toxins released from disintegrating bacteria cells in the blood which can lead to hemmorhages, shock, and kidney failure. Study authors believed that this presence of endotoxemia depleted the subjects’ Vitamin C levels. These subjects also had lower α-tocopherol bioavailability. α-tocopherol is a type of Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant. Researchers found that Vitamin E supplementation can help to improve the gut barrier in rats with altitude-induced gut permeability damage. Authors of the MetS-Vitamin C link literature review hypothesize that α-tocopherol bioavailability is dependent on Vitamin C adequacy. They posit that this is due to Vitamin C’s ability to recycle α-tocopherol and traffic it to the gut-liver axis. In a study of smokers (who often have lower antioxidant levels as smoking causes free radicals that rapidly deplete antioxidants), Vitamin C supplementation normalized Vitamin E levels.
How to Consume A, C, D, and E Vitamins for the Gut
The gut requires almost half of the body’s total energy expenditure, which means that many of the nutrients that you consume play a major role in its function and that vitamins for gut health may have great importance. Research into the effects of gut health on overall health is still emerging, but evidence points to Vitamins A, C, D, and E as critical nutrients to fortify the gut barrier, limit bacterial overgrowth, and assist in stabilizing good bacteria.
Also known as retinoids, Vitamin A is a family of fat-soluble nutrients found in lots of orange-colored foods, including sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, apricots, and cantaloupes. Lucky for us, it’s available in other colors as well. Spinach, beef liver, broccoli, ricotta cheese, and even French vanilla ice cream contain high levels of Vitamin A. Excess Vitamin A stores in the body, so it’s possible to take too much though the National Institutes of Health isn’t quite sure what that level is. Chronic excess Vitamin A intake has been linked to some nasty effects.
This water-soluble nutrient, also known as ascorbic acid, is easy to find in so many fruits and vegetables like bell peppers, citrus, broccoli, and strawberries. It’s also a common dietary supplement, but is difficult for the body to absorb through traditional oral pills, gummies, and drink powders. Our Lypo-Spheric® Vitamin C bypasses your body’s restrictive nutrient delivery barriers to get Vitamin C to the cells where it’s needed. You can learn all about our innovative technology and how it increases your Vitamin C levels when other oral supplements fall short.
This one’s a little different from the usual definition of a vitamin, as your body can produce it. That is, if you get enough sunlight. And for most people with indoor jobs or who live in less-than-ideal climates, this is a tall order. Luckily, Vitamin D is found in common fish like salmon and tuna, as well as milk, yogurt, and eggs. Since it’s fat soluble, Vitamin D can have toxic levels.
This group of fat-soluble compounds is easy to find in nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils. They’re also prevalent in legumes like peanuts and soybeans, as well as in some green vegetables. Since your body can store excess Vitamin E, toxicity levels do exist when taking high-dose supplements. You’re probably not at risk for any negative effects if you get your Vitamin E from food.
Consuming vitamins for gut health may not be enough to repair a severely damaged gut, but there are few risks associated with meeting the recommended intake of these nutrients.