The mechanisms leading to the low-grade inflammation observed during obesity are not fully understood. Seeking the initiating events, we tested the hypothesis that the intestine could be damaged by repeated lipid supply and therefore participate in inflammation. In mice, 1-5 palm oil gavages increased intestinal permeability via decreased expression and mislocalization of junctional proteins at the cell-cell contacts; altered the intestinal bacterial species by decreasing the abundance of Akkermansia muciniphila, segmented filamentous bacteria, and Clostridium leptum; and increased inflammatory cytokine expression. This was further studied in human intestinal epithelial Caco-2/TC7 cells using the two main components of palm oil, i.e., palmitic and oleic acid. Saturated palmitic acid impaired paracellular permeability and junctional protein localization, and induced inflammatory cytokine expression in the cells, but unsaturated oleic acid did not. Inhibiting de novo ceramide synthesis prevented part of these effects. Altogether, our data show that short exposure to palm oil or palmitic acid induces intestinal dysfunctions targeting barrier integrity and inflammation. Excessive palm oil consumption could be an early player in the gut alterations observed in metabolic diseases.
Schematic representation of palmitic acid and palm oil eﬀects in murine (left) and human (right) intestinal cells.