Johansson 2010

In Part I of this two-part series, I discussed why the gastrointestinal (GI) mucus barrier—less than one millimeter thick, so fragile and tenuous—is critical for health and that disruption of this protective lining can lead to serious health problems. Unfortunately, disrupters of our precious mucus barrier are ubiquitous. It is part of the reason we have been witnessing a deterioration of human health with more obesity, hypertension, heart disease, cancers, mental health issues, cognitive decline and other conditions—yes: due, in part, to disruption of the GI mucus barrier.

There are many steps you can take to protect, or even thicken and strengthen, the GI mucus barrier. Factors that can improve the GI mucus barrier include:

  • Avoiding foods containing emulsifying agents—Polysorbate 80, carboxymethylcellulose, and other emulsifying agents added to foods such as ice cream and salad dressings to keep them mixed also emulsify the intestinal mucus lining. Emulsifiers disperse mucus, much like a drop of dishwashing liquid when added to a sink of oily dirty dishes.
  • Filter drinking water—Or obtain other sources that do not contain chlorine or fluoride that disrupt the mucus barrier.
  • Do not misuse the nutritional “supplement” N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)—Some have argued that NAC is helpful because it is the precursor for glutathione, an important anti-oxidative molecule. But NAC is also a potent emulsifying agent used, for example, in aerosolized form in hospitals to break up thick mucus secretions in someone with lung diseases such as pneumonia or cystic fibrosis. You might supplement NAC for 10 days to increase the likelihood of eradicating H. pylori in the stomach or fungi in the small intestine to disrupt the biofilm that allows them to “hide,” but then stop the NAC. Taken chronically, NAC has potential for major disruptions of bowel flora and increased endotoxemia, perhaps even translocation, i.e., the spread of bowel microbes to other parts of the body.
  • Avoid polyethylene glycol (PEG)—Ironically, this common bowel prep (Miralax) taken before colonoscopy is also an exceptionally potent emulsifying agent, dispersing the GI mucus barrier for up to several days. It is even prescribed as a long-term treatment for constipation, a devastating situation.
  • Avoid non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)—Drugs such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin disrupt the mucus barrier. This is why these agents are known causes of stomach, duodenal, and small intestinal ulcers due to the loss of the protective mucus barrier.
  • Obtaining plentiful microbiota-accessible carbohydrates (MACs)—The prebiotic fibers, polysaccharides, resistant starches and other carbohydrates that are indigestible by human enzymes but metabolizable by bowel flora species nourish microbes that produce fatty acids such as butyrate that stimulate mucus production. MACs also lead, via cross-feeding effects, to proliferation of important species that support the intestinal mucus barrier, species such as Akkermansia muciniphila and Faecalibacterium prausnitzii.
  • Eugenol—Eugenol is the essential oil from cloves. Eugenol thickens the mucus barrier.
  • Green tea catechins—Epigallocatechin and other polyphenols in green tea have the unique capacity to cross-link the mucin proteins in mucus, converting normally semi-liquid mucus to more of a viscous semi-gel, making it less permeable to microbes, microbial breakdown products, and partially-digested food.
  • Manage small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)—As I discussed in Part I of this series, the small intestine has a more fragile single-layer mucus barrier, unlike the less penetrable two-layer mucus barrier of the colon. The over-proliferation of fecal microbes in the small intestine that characterizes SIBO disrupts the mucus barrier in the small intestine. Reducing or eradicating fecal species such as E. coli and Salmonella in the small intestine therefore helps restore the mucus lining. (If you are unfamiliar, see my many discussions here on the blog, including my simple recipe for SIBO Yogurt.)

This list seems daunting, doesn’t it? To simplify, view it as a return to simpler times, avoiding pharmaceuticals, avoiding modern processed foods that your great grandmother wouldn’t even recognize as food, filtering tainted water from your tap, and including roots and vegetables in your lifestyle—just like your great grandmother did—to nourish mucus lining-protective microbes.

By the way, my recipe for the simple Clove Green Tea is a wonderful way to reduce the gastrointestinal turmoil that can, for instance, be part of eradicating your SIBO or SIFO. Sipped over several hours, Clove Green Tea can reduce bloating, gas, diarrhea, emotional turmoil, and anxiety that can plague such efforts due to die-off, i.e., the surge in endotoxemia that occurs when you kill off fecal microbes and/or fungi in the GI tract. The increase in intestinal mucus thickness and viscosity reduces endotoxemia, thereby reducing many of the unpleasant physical effects of die-off/endotoxemia.


Clove Green Tea—Recipe from Super Gut

Here’s a mucus-building powerhouse oF a recipe, so simple yet packing several intestinal health advantages into a simple cup of tea. Use this tea to help repair, rebuild, or maintain your intestinal mucus barrier and as part of your dysbiosis/SIBO/SIFO management program because it may make the journey smoother. This tea combines the mucus-increasing effect of eugenol oil from cloves, the mucus protein cross-linking effect of green tea catechins, and the Akkermansia growth-stimulating effects of fructooligosaccharides (FOS).

Whole cloves, rather than ground cloves, work best in this tea. Ground cloves include too many solids that cannot be separated from the eugenol, so if you filter the tea, you are removing much of the beneficial eugenol. Whole cloves, on the other hand, retain their ingredients well, so I have found that you can reuse whole cloves three or four times without sacrificing quality.

Choose a green tea, preferably organic, that is high in green tea catechin content for maximum benefit. Matcha teas are high, as is tea brewed from Trader Joe’s Organic Green Tea, Pique Tea Crystals, Newman’s Own Organic Green Tea, and Numi Organic Gunpowder Green Tea.

Optionally, you can sweeten the tea with allulose, which has the properties of prebiotic fiber. (FOS and allulose both readily dissolve in tea, unlike some other powdered prebiotics.)

For added flavor, add a cinnamon stick to the tea upon serving.

Makes 2 servings

2 cups water
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1 teabag green tea
1 teaspoon FOS powder
2 teaspoons allulose (optional). Additional sweetener to taste
1 cinnamon stick (optional)

In a small saucepan, combine the water and cloves and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cover to maintain at low simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the teabag in the last 1–2 minutes of simmering, then remove from heat. Discard teabag.

Stir in the FOS, optional allulose, other sweetener, and optional cinnamon stick, and serve or sip throughout the day.