When the contents of your gut are leaking into your bloodstream, you feel bad. Your immune system, responsible for protecting you from hostile bacteria, takes up arms against anything that has leaked out of your gut, leaving your entire gastrointestinal tract at high risk of experiencing collateral damage. Due to your immune system’s efforts to contain the threat, you’re left with a swollen, painful, and tender abdomen, not to mention disrupted bowel movements. In the days and weeks after an incident, you might anxiously try to avoid foods that you suspect as a trigger for leaky gut, only to find that even the safest foods seem to throw your digestive system into disarray. In other words, leaky gut isn’t a mild condition.
If you make a trip to the clinic, your health care practitioner will probably recognize that you’re suffering from leaky gut on the basis of the high levels of inflammation which are centered around your gastrointestinal tract as well as high white blood cell counts. Nonetheless, there’s no one treatment used to address leaky gut specifically. If you’re diagnosed with an inflammatory bowel disease—which tends to have leaky gut as a feature—you might be prescribed an anti-inflammatory drug, but it won’t help your gut to heal any faster, which means that it is of limited use in making you more comfortable; anti-inflammatory medications don’t prompt the cells of the gut to repair themselves, which leaves your leaky gut just as leaky as before you took the medication. Furthermore, the high level of gut inflammation in patients with IBDs all but guarantees that inflammation will persist even after treatment.
In the absence of a definitive treatment, patients who are struggling with leaky gut and the inflammation that it causes are left searching for a multifunctional therapy which can help them to heal while also helping them to experience less destructive and uncomfortable inflammation. For these patients, research suggests that quercetin may be a promising treatment option.
Quercetin: A Natural Anti-Inflammatorya potent and natural anti-inflammatory common in many kinds of plants and food products. Though it isn’t a chemical that most people have heard of, you probably consume quercetin frequently; tomatoes, kale, cranberries, cilantro, radishes, and red onions all contain quercetin, and garnishes like capers and dill are even richer sources. But while most people have consumed quercetin, the quantities contained in food products are probably too small to lead to any gastrointestinal benefits. This means that quercetin intended for therapy should be in the form of a nutritional supplement.
Quercetin supplements could help patients with leaky gut in two ways: by reducing the inflammation that causes gut leakage and by helping the cells of the intestinal wall to plug leaks more rapidly.1 Exploring each of quercetin’s capabilities will help patients evaluate if taking a quercetin supplement is the best tool to address their leaky gut.
How Does Quercetin Help Leaky Gut?
Quercetin’s primary appeal to patients with leaky gut is that it will help them to feel better by curbing inflammation at its source in the gastrointestinal tract without causing side effects. After consuming a quercetin supplement with a light meal, it is readily digested in the gastrointestinal tract, where it then localizes around points of leakage.
Normally, the cells of the gut wall are pressed against each other so that nothing can get through, much like bricks in a wall. In between the cells, there are areas called tight junctions, which correlate to the mortar between bricks. As the cells and the tight junctions between them are intact, the contents of the gut remain in the gut until they are excreted or absorbed. But when tight junctions are disrupted like in leaky gut, molecules or bacteria can slip through, leaking from the gastrointestinal tract to the bloodstream. While the root cause of leaky gut is unclear, leaky gut typically becomes a health problem because it disrupts the barrier that protects the body from microbes in the gastrointestinal tract, allowing those microbes to enter the bloodstream.2
Most gut microbes are helpful for digestion when they are confined in the gut, but the immune system recognizes them as a threat if they’re encountered elsewhere. Likewise, viruses or harmful bacteria might be harmless while inside the gastrointestinal tract but cause symptoms when they can escape and become established in other parts of the body. When immune cells encounter microbes leaking into the bloodstream from the gut, they generate an abundance of inflammation, causing symptoms such as bloating, pain, and discomfort. Additionally, the affected immune cells send signals to other immune cells, prompting them to standby to generate inflammation of their own if they encounter a threat. When those cells actually encounter the threat, they subsequently generate far more inflammation than they would otherwise. As such, bloating, pain, and discomfort may grow worse over time.
When the cells of the immune system are exposed to quercetin, however, they reduce their secretion of inflammatory molecules while also becoming less prone to signal to other immune cells that they should prepare to cause inflammation.3 Thus, quercetin can minimize inflammation-generated symptoms by preventing some of the inflammation from occurring in the first place. The result is that after taking quercetin, patients can experience lasting relief from minor inflammation before it spirals out of control.
Reducing inflammation is also helpful because it means that the cells of the gut wall can start working to plug the leak that was causing inflammation sooner than they would otherwise, thereby stemming inflammation at its source. This is because cells of the intestinal wall normally slow down their rate of repairing any gaps to a crawl when they encounter inflammation; in other words, your cells wait for the storm to end before trying to repair the fault in the levee. While this ensures that they don’t waste energy trying to repair gaps that might get damaged immediately afterward by ongoing inflammation, it also means that the gut can leak for much longer, causing a vicious cycle as the leakage generates more inflammation without solving the root cause.
Significantly, when the cells of the intestinal wall are exposed to quercetin, they no longer exhibit this behavior. With the help of quercetin, the cells of the gut wall can start repairing gaps even if inflammation is high, which helps the patient to feel better faster because it ultimately minimizes the amount of leakage in the gut.
Getting the Most Out of Your Quercetin Supplement
Helping your immune system to address a symptom like leaky gut will require the use of a high-quality quercetin supplement developed for optimal bioavailability. This is crucial, as many quercetin supplements aren’t formulated in a way that your body can use to experience their beneficial effects.4 With the help of well-formulated quercetin supplements, however, both the immune system and gastrointestinal tract may have the support that they need to keep the gut from leaking or to recover rapidly when leaks occur.
- Toth S, Jonecova Z, Curgali K, Maretta M, Soltes J, et al. 2017. Quercetin attenuates the ischemia reperfusion induced COX-2 and MPO expression in the small intestine mucosa. Biomedical Pharmacotherapy. 95:246-254. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28858733
- Groschwitz KR, and Hogan SP. 2009. Intestinal barrier function: molecular regulation and disease pathogenesis. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 124(1):3-20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19560575
- Li Y, Yao J, Han C, Yang J, Chaudhry MT, et al. 2016. Quercetin, inflammation, and immunity. Nutrients. 8(3):167. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4808895/
- Graefe EU, Wittig J, Mueller S, Riethling AK, Uehleke B, et al. 2001. Pharmacokinetics and bioavailability of quercetin glycosides in humans. Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 41:492-499. http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/datastore/608-67.pdf