More and more, medical researchers are realizing the importance of what has been called gut health – maintaining the delicate balance of bacteria in our digestive system.
A paper by Chinese researchers examining the link between gut health and citrus flavonoids was published in the journal Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety in November 2020.
The intestinal barrier consists of epithelial cells, mucus, gut microbiota, the intestinal immune system, and some chemical components, and its job is to maintain gut health even as it is constantly confronted with bacteria and other elements. It has a juggling act to do, in other words. It is believed that imbalances and dysfunction in the gut may contribute to a host of diseases and conditions.
- A dysfunctional gut can lead to a number of diseases such as IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), and colorectal cancer.
- It is also thought to play a role in the development of systemic and chronic disorders like diabetes and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), among others.
Citrus Flavonoids In The Gut
The importance of citrus flavonoids has to do with the way they are digested.
- Only a small fraction of the flavonoids are digested directly from the stomach into the bloodstream.
- Once in the intestines, the phytochemicals are ingested in a variety of ways.
- As they break down, they produce metabolites, compounds which also have a beneficial effect on the gut barrier.
While the work is ongoing, researchers indicate that these compounds work for gut health by different means.
- They help protect the mucus lining;
- They work to regulate the immune system in the intestines;
- They fight against oxidative stress with antioxidant properties;
- They have beneficial effects on the microbiome and metabolome.
*The microbiome consists of all the microbial organisms that live inside our bodies. They include bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses.
*The metabolome is a term for what are called the small-molecule chemicals within a biological sample. This may include amino acids, vitamins, fats, and other compounds.
There are more than 80 different natural flavonoids that have been identified in various citrus fruits and plants. The benefits of citrus flavonoids extends not only to maintaining and promoting health, but can beneficial in treating disorders related to intestinal barrier dysfunction.
The researchers concluded by noting that knowledge of how citrus flavonoids act within the intestines is an important field of study. It can be used to create dietary as well as pharmacological solutions and treatments for disease.
While research on human subjects is still rare, it’s an important next step.