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Zinc carnosine: gut defender

First of all - this isn’t plain old zinc, but zinc carnosine. Second, zinc carnosine is quite promising for gut health issues, and its impact on gut permeability was formally tested in this trial.

Study under review: Zinc carnosine works with bovine colostrum in truncating heavy exercise-induced increase in gut permeability in healthy volunteers


The gut is a battleground for our immune system. The intestinal lining of our digestive system is one of the few membranes in the human body that is consistently exposed to both the external environment (the digestive tract passes through our body and the food is still “outside” the body until it is absorbed) and to a host of microbes, some of which could be pathogenic. Therefore, the two main roles of the gut are to regulate the absorption of nutrients from the food we eat and to prevent the entry[1] of pathogenic microbes and toxic by-products.

The integrity of the intestinal barrier may be compromised by many things. This typically occurs via the “opening” of tight junctions – complex structures composed of more than 50 proteins which are regarded to be central[2] for gastrointestinal permeability. Tight junctions (depicted in Figure 1) connect adjacent cells within the intestinal tract and act as selective barriers.

These tight junctions may have an impact on GI symptoms, since increased intestinal permeability plays a role in the development of GI distress. Think about going for a run in the heat. How likely are you to get a cramp or a side-stitch? GI complaints are common among runners and triathletes[3], as well as military personnel returning from deployment to arid climates such as Eastern Africa[4] and the Middle East[5]. These symptoms have long been attributed to exercise-induced reductions in intestinal blood flow[6]. However, heat-stress[7] from the exercise may also play a role in promoting intestinal permeability and subsequent inflammation from the absorption of toxic compounds. Regardless of cause, increased intestinal permeability may predispose individuals to infectious and autoimmune diseases[8].

Figure 1: Healthy vs. "Leaky" Gut

Pharmacologic options for preventing exercise-induced increases in gut permeability are limited, but emerging research has started to appreciate the potential of nutraceuticals or functional foods in promoting gut health. One such product is bovine colostrum, which has been shown[9] to reduce exercise-induced increases in gut permeability in athletes by 80%, compared to a placebo. Another promising supplement is zinc carnosine, which has been shown in humans[10] to prevent a nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drug (NSAID)-induced rise in gut permeability. However, exercise data with zinc carnosine is lacking.

The current study took a two-pronged approach. In one set of experiments, the authors examined the effect of supplementing zinc carnosine and bovine colostrum alone and in combination on exercise-induced changes in gut permeability in athletes. Then, the researchers conducted another set of test tube studies to examine the cellular mechanisms of these compounds.

One role of the gut is to regulate what enters our body, but certain stressors such as exercise and heat have been shown to inhibit our gut’s ability to perform this task through increasing the permeability of the intestinal barrier. The current study investigated whether zinc carnosine, colostrum, or their combination could protect against exercise- and heat-induced increases in intestinal permeability in athletes.

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