Sunday, November 25, 2012

Shedding Some Light on the Leaky Gut <> Exercise Connection. Plus: 20+ Things You Should or Shouldn't Do to Protect and Restore the Integrity of Your Intestinal Wall

Have you ever felt nauseated after a workout? Or does your protein supplement gives you diarrhea only if you take it right after a workout? Both can be related to the toll  exercise can take on the integrity of your intestinal tract.
To be honest, I was quite surprised that I did not get a hell lot of hatemail in response to the the 'MSG heals the gut study' I posted last Sunday... Be that as it may, I feel sort of awkward to have opened Pandora's box without proving you with some betters tools than mono-sodium glutamate (MSG) to seal the box, or rather your leaky gut, again. Therefore I decided to post this mini-feature on a particular issue all of us will be dealing with: An exercise induced increase in gut permeability. As you are going to see, there are a lot of similarities to the 'classic' leaky gut, which is often implicated in the etiology of chronic inflammatory bowel diseases. In order to understand these similarities, but also the few, yet important differences, we will have to lay some theoretical groundwork.

"What exactly is a leaky gut?"

The easiest way to answer this question would be to say: "That's what everybody and his mama is talking about these days". This definition as concise (and precise) as it may be, is yet about as productive as the talk that's at its heart. So, instead of relying on hearsay, let's rather briefly recap how intestinal wall actually works.

Since the intestines are meant to let nutrients and fluid pass, a certain degree of leakiness is absolutely natural. Problems arise only, when the self-regulatory system is broken and/or the permeability exceeds a normal / healthy threshold (img. by Mariana Ruiz).
The mucosal layer of the intestinal tract is made up of epithelial cells, so-called enterocytes which are connected to one another by specialized proteins. These proteins form the tight junctions (TJ) - a term, you will probably have encountered numerous times before. The main constituents of this kit in between the enterocytes are proteins such as occludin, zona-occludens and claudins. Together, the array of enterocytes and the tight junction form the the intestinal barrier, which allows the absorption of nutrients and water, while preventing the translocation of harmful substances from the gut into the bloodstream.

The integrity of this barrier is influenced by the phosphorylation state of the proteins within the tight junctions.The exact interactions are compilcated and can be looked up elsewhere (Banan. 2005). What's important for you to realize is that during prolonged exercise which is necessarily accompanied by an increase in core temperature, cardiovascular and thermoregulatory responses compromise intestinal blood flow.

With the core temperature usually being lower than the temperature in your intestines, the temperature of your gut can easily approach 41°C during a workout.That's more than your epithelial cells can handle and can lead to structural damage of the 'patches' in the tight junctions + epithelial cell layer (Lambert. 1985).

HIIT veterans or weight lifters are not off the hook

Now, the last paragraph may have sounded as if only long endurance workouts like 10k-runs or marathons could entail damage to the intestinal cells. That's however not the case, since the redirection of the blood away from the splanchnic arteries and to the working muscle that's even more pronounced in high(er) intensity exercise, will initiate an ischaemia reperfusion cycle which can entail oxidative damage not during, but interestingly after the the workout, when the blood rushes back into the intestines (Wijck. 2011).

Take home message: There are two distinct pathways that contribute to the leaky gut during and after a workout (a) heat and (b) ischaemic/reperfusion stress. Both influcne the phosphorylation state of the proteins in the tight junctions and will thus increase the permeability of the gut lining.

It stands to reason that the combination of high intensity and long durations, as you will find it in an ultra-marathon runner, for example, is particularly detrimental to the integrity of the intestinal wall, so that it is not exactly surprising that (ultra-)endurance athletes have the highest prevalence (60-90%) of gastrointestinal distress that which manifests in the form of diarrhoea, nausea, stomach problems, bloating and intestinal cramps (Worobetz.1985; Peters.1999; Jeukendrup.2000)

There is more than one thing you can to to protect, heal and restore your gut integrity

The fact that a "leaky gut" is like an open door not just for exogenous toxins or live bacteria, but also for their 'endotoxic poop' is probably no news for you. In fact, it is also the reason why you want to either prevent the pathological increases in gut permeability, in the first place, and/or (re-)seal the gut as soon as possible after your workouts. In this regards, there are three fundamental and easily implementable strategies that should always be employed before you even think about using specific supplements:
  • Figure 1: HSP 70 offers protection against endotoxins (LPS) in vivo (top) and in vitro (bottom; Dokladny. 2010)
    Despite the possible ischaemic / reperfusion stress short high intensity exercise bouts like sprinting are generally less taxing on the integrity of the tight junctions than longer duration medium intensity aerobic workouts. Avoiding these particularly gut-stressing workouts and/or taking special precautions before and after marathons and other endurance events would thus be strategy #1 to keep the epithelial cell layer intact and pathogens and toxins from entering the circulation.
  • The natural intracellular expression of heat shock proteins (HSPs) can protect the tight gut junctions during and/or help their restoration after a workout. Just like all our endogenous protection systems the production of HSPs can be trained. Giving your body the time it needs to accommodate by making small, but consistent steps towards longer and/or more intense workouts would therefore be strategy #2.
  • That leaves us with strategy #3, of which I hope all of you will be using anyway - even if you have not been aware of its gut protective effect, yet: The provision of adequate fluid supply before, during and after a workout (Lambert. 2008).
As the workout durations become longer and longer and/or the respective intensities higher and higher, solely relying on your bodies self-healing capacity and adequate hydration may seize to work, though. Despite the fact that our bodies accommodate to the ever increasing demand for intracellular protection against heat stress by upregulating the HSP expression (athletes have higher HSP expression to a standardized endurance training protocol than normal individiuals; cf. Fehrenbach. 2000), there is - just as with about every adaptive response - a certain threshold, when hormesis, i.e. the beneficial adaptation to a manageable amount of stress, is no longer an option.

From "A" as in arginine to "Z" as in zinc - a list of things to keep the gut lining intact

While there has been quite a lot of research as of late into which dietary supplements and even regular foodstuff would be able to modulate the heat shock proteins in order to prefer the desired downstream benefits on gut integrity, the number of compounds of which it is reasonable to assume that they can actually make a difference is still very small:
  • Colostrum supplementation to cell cultures has been shown to increase the expression of HSP-70 in human epithelial cells; studies with human subjects are rare and ambiguous:  While Marchbank et al., have been able to show that bovine colostrum truncates the increase in gut permeability caused by heavy exercise in athletes (Marchbank. 2011), Buckley et al. actually observed detrimental effects of 8 weeks of bovine colostrum supplementation on the exercise induced gut permeability in runners (Buckley. 2009).The explanation for these discrepencies is not clear, but may be related to the longer duration / different intensity of the exercise protocols, or differences in the immunoglobolin, peptide or amino acid composition of the supplements.
  • Zinc in general and specifically polaprezinc, a zinc based anti-ulcer drug, which has primarily been used in Japan as a means to seal leaky Japanese guts, show some promises, as in the treatment and prevention of increased intestinal permeabilty (Zhang. 2009). It is thought that zinc is critical for tight junction assembly and has been shown to be critical in the protection of the gut lining from the chronic toxic assault of alcohol (Zhong. 2010). That being said, you should keep in mind that alcohol will deplete your bodies zinc stores, so that it cannot be said, if someone with an adequate zinc intake would benefit to the same degree as a zinc deficient alcoholic. Moreover, as "natural" as they may be, even essential minerals like zinc don't come without potential side effects (cf. "After 120 Days Rodents on Diets Containing 2xRDA of Zinc Develop Metabolic Syndrome", read more).
  • Glutamine has been used as treatment for patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease and has been shown to actively increase the expression of HSP70 in critically ill patients (Jonas. 1999; Ziegler. 2005).  
  • Berberine could be an ideal addition to glutamine (thx to Maxim Okhrimenko for pointing that out in the comments); berberine does not only modulate the TNF-alpha response in the intestines and increases AKT, but has also been shown to maintain / rescue intestinal glutamine transport and glutaminase activity (Gu. 2009; Amasheh. 2010; Li. 2010; Niu. 2011)
  • Probiotics are still an 'under-researched' newcomer and though there is some preliminary evidence pointing to the efficacy of probiotic therapy as a means of improving gut function and enhancing the integrity of the intestinal tight junctions, the ideal supplement regimen, as well as its long-term effects will still have to be elucidated in human studies. Studies by Ewaschuk et al. have yet already shown that the impact factors released from Bifidobacteria infantis can offer a certain degree of protection against experimentally induced colitis in rodents (Ewaschuk. 2008). As far as exercise specific studies are concerned, a recently published paper by Lamprecht et al. is probably the first peer reviewed human study to report allegedly "borderline significant" beneficial effects on gut permeability (measured only indirectly by quantifiying the zonolin conent of the feces) and TNFalpha expression in response to a multi-species probiotics (1010 CFU/day, Ecologic®Performance orOMNi-BiOTiC®POWER) in 23 trained men (Lamprecht. 2012; the study was partially funded with a grant from Winclov, the manufacturer of the respective supplements).
  • Butyrate, yet not all short chain fatty acids, have recently been found to decrease gut permeability (Ferreira. 2012). Both data from human studies, as well as exercise specific data is yet still absent.
  • Hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (HPMC), which is a non-fermentable fiber, has been shown to protect rodent guts from a high fat diet induced increase in gut permeability (Kim. 2012), as in the case of butyrate its efficacy (and when you think about athletes, tolerability) will yet still have to be confirmed in human trials.
  • L-Arginine (and AAKG) as a source of nitric oxide, which is necessary to protect the gut barrier from invaders could have a protective effect, as well (Quirino. 2012); and though this effect is not exercise specific, we know that arginine requirements increase in states of chronic stress, it would therefore be logical that supplementation with l-arginine, or even better AAKG, which comes with a precursor to glutamine will have beneficial effects on the tightness of the guts of intensely training athletes, as well (suggested read: BCAAs, glutamine and ammonia detox) .
  • Oats, maybe due to their beta glucan content and their ability to increase the production of short-chain fatty acids in the large intestine, oats offer protection against alcohol induced increases in tight junction permeability (Tang. 2009); exercise specific studies have yet to be conducted, though.Personally I would yet not be surprised if this would turn out to be very effective (note: as long as they are not cross-contaminated, oats are 100% gluten-free)
  • Goats milk (powder) has been shown to be equally effective as colostrum in reducing heat and thus most likely exercise induced gut permeability (Prosser. 2004)
  • Lactoferrin, a multifunctional protein of the transferrin family that is present in milk may have protective effects against LPS-mediated intestinal mucosal damage and impairments of the barrier function in intestinal epithelial cells (Hirotani. 2008)
  • Vitamin A in adequate amounts is necessary to maintain gut integrity; it is likely that this is all the more true if gut integrity and immune function are additionally challenged by strenuous exercise (Quadro. 2000)
I guess, I could find even more supplements (and foods) that may help you protect or restore your gut lining, but let's be honest: As important and beneficial eating and supplementing the right things may be, all your efforts would be foiled if you eat foods and supplements that will have the opposite effect on your gut lining. So here is the complementary and likewise non-exhaustive list of stuff you'd better avoid (at least in high doses) if you want to keep your tight junctions intact and your gut from becoming leaky:
Figure 2: Gliadin peptides induce the release of zonulin which in turn interacts with the tight junctions and increases the diffusion of small molecules (∼350 Da) across the cell membrane. Whether the tight junctions open up wide enough to allow for free diffusion of whole gliadin peptides, whose molecular weight is at least 2000 Da, remains to be determined, though (Heyman. 2011)
  • Alcohol will wreak havoc on the permeability of your intestines; probably in consequence of its depleting effect on ileal zinc concentration (Zhong. 2010).
  • Gliadin (in wheat/gluten) does actively promote the release of zonolin and the widening of the tight junctions (see figure 2); whether you will notice that or not, depends on the occurrence and extent of an immune response as it is characteristic for Celiac patients. I guess, it's actually not necessary to say that all sorts of other allergens, respectively the ensuing inflammatory response to being exposed to them will have detrimental effects on the integrity of your gut, as well, right?
  • ALA, EPA and DHA the dietary omega-3 fatty which may help sooth tight junction permeability in states of chronic inflammation will actually increase it, when the baseline inflammation is already low or they are consumed in excess (Usami. 2001; Roig-Pérez. 2010)
  • Copper and iron increase tight junction permeability of caco-2 cells via distinct mechanisms (Ferruzza. 2002)
  • Capsaicin, piperine and other hot spices do not only cause a burning sensation in your mouth, it literally burns your intestinal cell lining, as well (Johri. 1992; Tsakura.2007)
  • Quercitin by blocking the increase in HSP-70 will increase the suceptibility of your gut to exercise induced increases in permeablity (Kuennen. 2011)
  • NSAIDs like aspirin and ibuprofen increase the permeability of the gut ad amplify the potentially detrimental effects of exercise (Lambert. 2007)
Obviously, only few of the last mentioned offenders are exercise specific, but if you start working out with already compromised gut integrity, you can hardly complain if a couple of grams of glutamine, or whatever else you may have picked from the previous list, don't effectively protect your intestinal wall from damage. What's even more important though is that you understand the Janus-faced nature of anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. As beneficial as they may be in situations of chronic or acute pathologic inflammation, NSAIDs, quercitin and even your beloved omega-3 can eventually extinguish the 'controlled fire' your body needs to keep all immune and metabolic functions simmering along nicely (suggest reads: "Are you stressed enough for a longer life?" and "Inflammation is a True Fat Burner").

References:
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