Your epidermis – your skin – separates your body’s tissues from the outside air. Your mucosal barrier is an inner skin, separating you from acids in your stomach and bacteria and waste products in your intestines. Essentially it is a sleeve running from mouth to anus.
The mucosal barrier allows nutrients to pass from our stomach and intestines into the body while blocking toxins and infection. The health of the barrier is vital to our overall health, since a breakdown in the barrier can open us to bacteria, viruses, parasites, and toxins.
What can we do to ensure that our mucosal barrier is in good health? One vital factor is Vitamin D.
Vitamin D And The Health Of The Mucosal Barrier
Vitamin D is of course important to health in several ways. It helps boost the immune system. In fact, some bacteria attempt to prevent the body from absorbing vitamin D, as a way of ensuring their own survival. Research shows it is especially important to the mucosal barrier. Vitamin D deficiency may allow a rapid deterioration in the health of the barrier, leading to colitis or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Research at the University of Chicago with mice genetically altered so that they couldn’t produce vitamin D showed dramatic changes in how well they could fight off infection from the gut.
Genetic Factors Relating To Vitamin D
A small minority of individuals may need much larger doses of vitamin D to ensure proper health. A gene called CYP27B1 instructs our cells in how to create an enzyme which converts vitamin D into its active form, calcitrol. In a small minority, though, a mutation reduces the ability of CYP27B1 to do its work. This reduces the body’s capacity to absorb and use vitamin D – and a simple genetic test can tell if this is an issue for you. Also, in elderly people, mitochondrial dysfunction can prevent vitamin D from being properly absorbed.
Candida is a form of yeast that can infect the digestive system. Research has shown that candida can cause the cells lining the small intestine to shrink, which permits toxins and other damaging agents to pass through into the bloodstream. Candida lives naturally in our guts, and for the most part is not a problem. However, it becomes a hazard when other flora in our digestive systems are damaged or killed, for example through the use of antibiotics. In this environment, candida can take over, becoming a threat to health. In individuals with a compromised immune system, candida can even be life-threatening.
Vitamin A And Its Role In The Health Of The Barrier
Vitamin A also plays a vital role in maintaining your mucosal barrier’s health. It is a fat-soluble nutrient which is vital to the immune system. It enhances the production of IgA, an immunoglobulin or immune antibody vital to the barrier’s immune functions.
In part two of this article, we will look at additional factors affecting the health of the barrier. We will also look at how you can maintain the barrier – or even repair it if you need to.