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Open Access Highly Accessed Debate

'Gut health': a new objective in medicine?

Stephan C Bischoff

Author Affiliations

Institute of Nutritional Medicine, University of Hohenheim, Fruwirthstr. 12, Stuttgart, D 70599, Germany

BMC Medicine 2011, 9:24  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-9-24

Published: 14 March 2011

Abstract

'Gut health' is a term increasingly used in the medical literature and by the food industry. It covers multiple positive aspects of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, such as the effective digestion and absorption of food, the absence of GI illness, normal and stable intestinal microbiota, effective immune status and a state of well-being. From a scientific point of view, however, it is still extremely unclear exactly what gut health is, how it can be defined and how it can be measured. The GI barrier adjacent to the GI microbiota appears to be the key to understanding the complex mechanisms that maintain gut health. Any impairment of the GI barrier can increase the risk of developing infectious, inflammatory and functional GI diseases, as well as extraintestinal diseases such as immune-mediated and metabolic disorders. Less clear, however, is whether GI discomfort in general can also be related to GI barrier functions. In any case, methods of assessing, improving and maintaining gut health-related GI functions are of major interest in preventive medicine.