A reduction in intestinal barrier function is currently believed to play an important role in pathogenesis of many diseases, as it facilitates passage of injurious factors such as lipopolysaccharide, peptidoglycan, whole bacteria, and other toxins to traverse the barrier to damage the intestine or enter the portal circulation. Currently available evidence in animal models and in vitro systems has shown that certain dietary interventions can be used to reinforce the intestinal barrier to prevent the development of disease. The relevance of these studies to human health is unknown. Herein, we define the components of the intestinal barrier, review available modalities to assess its structure and function in humans, and review the available evidence in model systems or perturbations in humans that diet can be used to fortify intestinal barrier function. Acknowledging the technical challenges and the present gaps in knowledge, we provide a conceptual framework by which evidence could be developed to support the notion that diet can reinforce human intestinal barrier function to restore normal function and potentially reduce the risk for disease. Such evidence would provide information on the development of healthier diets and serve to provide a framework by which federal agencies such as the US Food and Drug Administration can evaluate evidence linking diet with normal human structure/function claims focused on reducing risk of disease in the general public.
This work was supported by the ILSI North America Carbohydrates Committee.