Both zinc and natural activators of the ‘Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor’ (AHR) are nutrients which work together to improve the gut barrier against infectious and inflammatory agents. In our current Guts UK funded project, we are researching how this works so that the benefits can be harnessed and help treat IBD.
What is leaky gut and how do we think it happens?
The inside layer of the bowel consists of cells bonded together with ‘tight junctions’ to produce a seal. If these tight junctions become loose the bowel gets porous and we have ‘leaky gut’. This can happen in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
The gut has sensors for nutrients. One of these is called the ‘Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor’ (AHR). When AHR binds to some plant-based chemicals in our diet, it becomes activated. AHR then communicates with the ‘tight junctions’ and the immune system to protect us against IBD.
Our research suggests that AHR does this by letting zinc into the cells and that this zinc is responsible for improving seal of the ‘tight junctions’. This suggests that zinc intake is important to help against IBD, and the levels of zinc are often low in people with IBD.
How are we investigating this?
Using stem cells from human donors, we are making mini-intestines in a culture dish.
We stimulate these mini-intestines with zinc and natural AHR activators and study if this improves the junctions between the cells in the mini-intestines. This research will help us understand how zinc and AHR natural activators regulate intestinal barriers.
What does this mean for people with IBD?
Better understanding of the relationship between diet and "leaky gut" could lead to a new way to control IBD and, therefore, has the possibility to become a new treatment for people who suffer from the disease.
By Professor Christer Hogstrand, King's College London
Funded by Guts UK.
You can see the 'virtual poster' from Guts UK here.