Fruits, apart from being a source of various nutrients, contain compounds which can help fight diseases. In a recent study, researchers from the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, Bengaluru, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms, Bengaluru, University of Louisville, USA, University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences, USA and Dalhousie University, Canada have reported that a compound produced during the breakdown of berries and pomegranate in the gut has the potential to reduce inflammatory bowel disease, which affects millions of people across the globe. This study was funded by the Department of Biotechnology, India and National Institute of Health, USA, and the outcomes were published in the journal Nature Communications.
Inflammatory bowel disease is a term used for ‘Crohn’s disease’ and ‘ulcerative colitis’ which are marked by chronic inflammation of our digestive tract. It occurs because of a defective immune system and has limited treatment options.
Our gut is lined by a single layer of cells forming the gut barrier. When this layer is damaged, toxins present in the gut are released into our body, causing inflammation. Certain proteins called tight junction proteins help in keeping the cells in this barrier tightly connected to each other and thus maintaining the gut lining intact. However, these proteins decrease during inflammatory bowel disease leading to the easy passage of toxins through the lining.
Just eating berries and pomegranate is not enough to reduce the inflammation. We need the help of the gut microbes that make a compound called urolithin from the ellagic acid present in these fruits. Among the urolithins, the compound called urolithin A is known to possess anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, and anti-aging properties. The researchers studied this compound and synthesised a compound similar to it called ‘UAS03’ in the laboratory. The researchers observed that urolithin A and UAS03 boost the presence of tight junction proteins.
“Microbial metabolites provide two-pronged benefits at the gut lining by enhancing barrier functions and reducing inflammation, to protect from colon diseases”, inform the authors about their findings.
The microbial population in the gut highly varies in different people which leads to the variability in the urolithin levels produced in the gut. The researchers suggest that direct supplementation of urolithin might help to address this problem. Their studies in experimental mice indicate that these compounds have long-term benefits in preventing inflammatory bowel disease.
The researchers also mention that the findings are relevant to other disorders involving barrier dysfunction and inflammation such as alcohol liver diseases, neurological disorders, and colon cancers.