Question:

What are mucins? I just heard the term recently and it sounded like they are good for you, but I’d like more info. What do they do for you? And what are good sources of them? 

– Kathryn J.

Answer:

Mucins are glycoproteins that are an integral part of your immune system, acting as a physical barrier for epithelial cells against pathogens and foreign invaders and helping prevent inflammatory responses. They also act as lubrication in gel-like secretions such as saliva, mucus and tear film over the eyes. The mucins you produce are generally good for you, except the ones that are over-expressed and linked to cancer or respiratory ailments.  

Other animals that produce notable mucins are snails, octopus, and giant jellyfish. Does that mean that eating them or their mucin will result in your gaining more human mucin? I could not determine that, although I did find out that apparently snail slime face masks are quite popular. Scientifically, it follows that if your mucins are lining your gut then they aren’t digested and absorbed, and therefore animal mucin consumed orally wouldn’t be either. But that is just my hypothesis.  

From all the available literature it seems there are a few things you can eat to optimize your natural mucin: 

In animal studies, it’s been shown that vitamin A and the amino acid threonine is needed for mucin synthesis. Vitamin A is found in eggs, dairy fat, dark green leafy and orange vegetables and fruit. Threonine — essential in the human diet since we can’t produce it — is found in protein (predominantly from meat, dairy foods and eggs). Eating adequate fiber which colonic bacteria feed on will prevent them from turning to gobbling up your mucin. Evidence is limited whether licorice root may help increase the natural production of mucins, but it has been used as a natural gut remedy for centuries. 

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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