Awareness of the gut microbiota—and its impact on health—has had a profound impact on wellness over the last decade or so. And if you’re like most health-conscience consumers, you’re probably using foods and supplements to support digestion and promote microbial diversity. After all, when it’s all said and done, we all want the friendly microbes in our intestines to thrive and produce healthy benefits.
But as we practice good eating habits to fertilize a healthy gut microbiota, let’s not forget that gut microbes, beneficial or not, are foreigners to our body’s immune system and will elicit inflammation and disease if they aren’t kept at a safe distance. Some gut microbes might be considered "friendly," but that doesn’t mean we want them in places they don’t belong; kind of like your next-door neighbor, they might be friendly, but you don’t want them taking up residence and eating all your food.
When our gut epithelium lining has too much direct contact with gut microbes or their cellular by-products, we can get sick. That’s why we need a healthy barrier to keep the trillions of microbes in our guts at a safe distance. Our bodies accomplish this through something called the colonic mucus barrier.